Unabashedly speaking, there have always been a lot of great perks behind Zion & Zion’s status as a Google Premier Partner. The most recent example came in the form of an invitation, an exclusive offer to take part in AdWords expert training onsite at Google’s sunny LA campus. A chance to peek behind the Google curtain mixed with a healthy dose of California sunshine.

The multi-day training event was overseen by a specialty group of Google product experts. Our instructors provided plenty of actionable advice, designed to tackle the real issues we’ve encountered with our paid accounts. Participants came from all over the advertising spectrum—agency, in-house, and freelance consultants. These sessions ultimately provided an exhaustive overview of new and developing AdWords product features, features that are dramatically changing the strategy behind managing paid search.


Day 1 of Google Partner’s Expert Training: Audiences

The first Google Partners Expert Day training focused on audiences—specifically, how we identify them and target them in advertising. This training was designed to help us identify our target audience, provide strategies for re-engagement, and insights on how to build on our existing framework to grow our audience. Gone are the days of using stereotypes and demographics to segment desired customers. Google can now accurately segment users based on intent to target high value customers.

That was a lot of buzzwords, so let’s break this down. Traditionally, we’d either use marketing research, gut instinct, or blatant stereotypes to segment out our desired group of people to target with our marketing. Basics like gender, income, and age are now considered old hat ways of targeting a desired client base. Now, with audiences in Google, machine learning knows a user’s intent. All a marketer needs to do is check a box (interested in buying camping gear for example) and the bots handle the rest.

There’s one thing we need to do before fussing over our audience, however—something ‘critically important’ according to a room full of Google employees (whom I’m rather inclined to believe), which is determine our marketing objectives. You should be able to answer these basic questions with confidence:

  • What are our major marketing objectives?
  • What are our KPIs?
  • How are we measuring success?

For example, let’s say I help manage a website offering cheap prices on flights. While the company has been successful, we’ve noticed most users abandon the site after searching for flights. After internal discussions, we’ve determined our marketing objective is to improve our conversion rate. We believe we have a healthy traffic flow, we just need to capitalize more on our existing audience. As KPIs, we plan to monitor total recorded conversions YOY, bounce rate from key landing pages, and total daily visitors.

With our marketing objective defined and KPIs in place, the focus shifts to identifying our existing audience, determining why we’re coming up short on conversions, and which parts of the conversion funnel deserve more of our attention.

In this hypothetical airfare example, our conversion funnel looks like this:

  1. User visits the home page
  2. User searches for flights
  3. User arrives at a flight results page — area where most people drop off
  4. User arrives at an ancillary page
  5. User arrives at a summary page — area most associated with completed conversions
  6. User arrives at a payment page

It’s clear from the data that most people abandon the site after their initial search for flights—this is our problem area. If we can do a better job of moving that user into the summary page however, the likelihood that they purchase that flight dramatically increases. There’s some high-level considerations to be made now. Perhaps we want to change the messaging at earlier stages in the conversion funnel or completely overhaul key landing pages. These decisions are easier to make the better we understand our audience.

Audience Re-Engagement

One of the great advantages to using AdWords is it gives your business plenty of options to re-engage your audience. With AdWords, you can target past visitors to your website. In Google’s own words, AdWords allows advertisers to “serve relevant, powerful messages to users whom you’ve engaged with previously, wherever they are online.” That’s a powerful tool to have at your disposal.

AdWords give us a few options for audience re-engagement.

  • Smart Display Campaigns (SDC): Our “auto pilot” performance-oriented campaign. Use it to re-engage in case you have clients who don’t mind about the structure or technicalities of their campaigns. This will include returning users as well.
  • Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA): For this targeting method, we can use our lists to bid higher or change the messaging to our returning users.
  • Display Remarketing: This is the classic old remarketing where we could serve ads on the display network (YouTube too) to users who visited our website.
  • Customer Match: Reach your 1st party users (customers for which we have their phone number/email/address) in the search network, YouTube, or even with Gmail ads.

Expand Your Audience

AdWords also provides opportunities to expand your audience, helping us reach target new users who are in the market for our product or service. Here’s what options are available within Google’s audience targeting AI …

  • Similar Audiences: A great solution that takes your seed remarketing lists and expands them with Google’s Machine learning abilities, to a bigger, similar, new audience.
  • In-Market: Just like it sounds, you’re reaching people that are “in the market” for a particular product or service. These are people that are close to making a buying decision. This goes beyond affinity marketing. The machine learning Google uses to curate the in-market lists is so accurate that 65% of users in the in-market list are left off after one week.
  • Custom Intent: Couldn’t find your In-Market Segment? Want to have it even more precise? Create your own segment by defining keywords of interest and URLs.
  • Smart Display Campaigns (SDC): Here it is again. Our “autopilot” performance-oriented campaign. Use it to expand your activity within your desired CPA.

Audience targeting is a complex topic but these are essentially the core tenants: identify, re-engage, and expand the framework. Machine learning was referenced throughout the Audience training day, and we went through a more in-depth discussion on Google Partners Expert Day 2.

Day 2 of Google Partner’s Expert Training: Automation

In the words of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, we’re experiencing “[A]n important shift from a mobile first world to an AI first world.” This quote came up a lot over the two days we spent at Google’s lux LA campus. The bots are no longer coming for us—the bots are here. In fact, we are surrounded by bots and trust them more than humans in many ways. We’d all rather fly on an airplane using autopilot. And this article was gleefully written using spellcheck.

The difference between Google’s machine learning and spellcheck is that I can’t remember a time when spellcheck was fresh out of beta and misspelled words. The Automation Expert Day was held in a room full of seasoned SEM professionals skeptical of the automated utopia Google was describing. We’d tried it all before with negligible to worse performance. Google had made a good case for giving it another try by the end of the day and laid out common pitfalls to ensure the best opportunity for success.

If you tried Bid to CPA or some other version of Smart Bidding in the past and it didn’t work out well, now’s the time to give it another try. Google laid out a timeline of over 20 major features added to Smart Bidding over the last 18 months. So, even if you tried Smart Bidding two months ago, it’s worth giving it another go.

Common Pitfalls

Here’s a list of things to look out for before implementing Smart Bidding on your campaigns, to ensure success and rack up those conversions.

  • Impression Share is Too Low: If your impression share is above 80%, you will see CPC’s rise quite a bit as the system reaches for those last few conversions.
  • Not Enough Conversions: In the past 30 days, you need at least 15 conversions for Maximize Conversions & Enhanced CPC, 30 conversions for Target CPA, and over 100 for Target ROAS. If you plan on utilizing campaign experiments to test Smart Bidding, you’ll need to double these minimums since you are essentially splitting your campaign in half.
  • Brand New Campaign: Because you need a minimum amount of conversion history for Smart Bidding to work well, Google recommends starting off with Enhanced CPC for the first 30 days while you build up enough data, and then switching over to one of the more sophisticated Smart Bidding options.
  • Conversion Tracking Broke: Google can account for this on the backend, so just let your Google Partner rep know if this happens, and they can have that period excluded as to not skew the machine learning.
  • Target CPA is Too Low: If you go into Settings for your campaign and start the process of switching to a Target CPA Bid Strategy, Google will recommend a target CPA for you. This suggested target is based on your performance over the past 30 days, so if you set it lower than what is suggested, you are telling the bot to aim for a CPA lower than what you’ve statistically gotten over the past 30 days. In this scenario, you are very likely to receive fewer conversions than before to reach your desired CPA.
  • Edits Were Made During the Learning Period: This is hard. This is so hard. Google will show your campaign as a status of “Learning” once you’ve enabled one of the Smart Bidding options and this will last approximately seven to nine days. It’s advised not to make any major changes to your campaign during the learning period, otherwise you run the risk of resetting the learning period.

google automated bidding

Choosing the Bidding Option That’s Right for You

You’re reassured that Google’s machine learning has advanced to a point that it’s worth giving it another try. You’re feeling confident you have a handle on the common pitfalls and you have some campaigns that are great candidates to try this out on. Which Smart Bidding option do you choose?

Smart Bidding, Listed in Order from Lowest to Highest ROI Potential:

  • Enhanced CPC: Great for brand new campaigns, campaigns with a small amount of conversions in the past 30 days, or campaigns that are maxed out on budgets. This bidding strategy is considered “dipping your toe in” to Smart Bidding.
  • Maximize Conversions: If you have at least 15 conversions in the past 30 days, have an impression share of 80% or lower, and want to get as many conversions as possible for your budget, this is a great strategy to choose.
  • Target CPA: If you have at least 30 conversions in the past 30 days and a realistic CPA target, this is a more sophisticated strategy to try. You may need to play with the CPA goal a bit after the learning period to achieve desired results, so this strategy can potentially take a bit longer to see improvements, but this strategy has more of a potential to garner a better ROI than Maximize Conversions or Enhanced CPC.
  • Target ROAS: If you have your conversion data set up to report on ROAS, this is a more precise version of Target CPA, however you need a minimum of 100 conversions in the past 30 days for this strategy to work well.

If you’re still unsure, head on over to the opportunities tab to see if Google has flagged any of your accounts as great candidates for Smart Bidding strategy. Also, don’t forget that you have the option of utilizing campaign experiments. You will just want to be sure to have double the minimum amount of conversions for the Smart Bidding strategy you test out.

In Conclusion

By now you might be spiraling into a pit of despair thinking your job is obsolete—but fret not, fellow PPC friend! Smart Bidding only affects bidding decisions. This frees you up to use that noggin on more complex decisions like campaign structure and budget allocation. Time is money, and Google is working on giving us some time back in our day so we can deliver even more advertising value for our clients.