Manual vs. Automated Bidding Strategies – Which is Best for Your Google Ads Campaigns?

When it comes to advertisers, Google is eager to please. The search engine truly does want to help you market your business in every possible way and streamline those efforts as much as possible, which is why Google has developed automated bidding strategies to help you manage your paid search ad campaigns.

Google touts automated bidding as an excellent solution for advertisers who want “to save time managing bids based on hundreds of signals.”

According to Google:

Automated bidding takes the heavy lifting and guesswork out of setting bids to meet your performance goals. Each type of automated bid strategy is designed to help you achieve a specific goal for your business.

These bidding strategies can help your brand achieve goals like:

Increase site visits

Using the Maximize Clicks setting will automatically optimize your bids to help drive as many clicks to your ads as possible within your budget.

Increase visibility

The Target Impression Share setting will automatically set your bids to show your ads “on the absolute top of the page, on the top of the page or anywhere on the page of Google search results.”

Get more conversions with your cost per acquisition (CPA)

The Target CPA setting can optimize both Search and Display campaigns to drive conversions at your desired CPA target.

Increase conversions while staying in control of your keyword bids

Enhanced cost-per-click (ECPC) automatically adjusts your manual bids to help you get more conversions at your desired CPA.

Meet target return on ad spend (ROAS) for different conversions

Ad campaigns often have various conversions that have different values for your brand. The Target ROAS automated bidding strategy helps you drive conversions based on their value while staying within your ROAS goals.

The value of these automated bidding strategies

Each of the strategies above may focus on one particular result, but they have a common goal – to help campaigns reach their overall maximum potential in a way that saves time for those managing the campaigns.

The way automated bidding strategies work is by driving the most potential from your keywords at a set maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid – the amount you are willing to spend to appear for a given search term.

You may notice that after you “flip the switch” to enable one of these strategies, your keyword-level maximum bids drop to the lowest that they can go – which in most cases is $.01. Then, your bids will slowly adjust/raise each day to see how the auctions bear out for your campaign.

What’s happening is the algorithm is trying to learn to the best possible performance at any given cost. It’s enacting the theory that if the tide rises then all ships must rise with it. It usually takes about five days for the algorithm to get fully up to speed. While this is happening, the Google Ads platform will tell you how many days are left within the little talk bubble above “eligible.”

Google AdWords-Automated Bidding Strategies-Learning


The problem with automated bidding strategies

One of the most significant issues with automated bidding strategies is that bids will keep rising if you don’t set a ceiling. Meaning you could end up paying $40 a click for a term that would probably net a $10 click if you used the good ole fashion “manual CPC” model. If this were poker, you would be betting on every hand and raising every time. Sure, you might win a few pots, but it’s going to cost you big time in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong; automated bidding strategies are a solid temporary solution if you need to jump-start a campaign and don’t have a lot of spare time to manage bids manually. But, a more hands-on approach can save you a lot of money in the long run by finding more ideal bid limits for your campaigns.

You might be saying “This sounds great, but I have a business to run.”

I get it – you want to do manual CPC but don’t have the time to do the calculations. To help you out, here’s a quick primer on getting started with manual bidding strategies. And, if you need additional help, you can always reach out to Mindstream Media Group to have one of our paid search experts take a look at your campaigns.

Related: 17 Questions to Ask When You Think it’s Time to Hire a New Paid Search Agency

Manual bidding – another way to manage Google Ads campaigns

Google tried to make it as easy as possible for you to take control of your Ads account and optimize bids for specific keywords and ad groups. In the Ads dashboard, clicking on the button below will open up a handy-dandy little chart that tells you what you would get with each CPC increase. To find this chart, head to your Google Ads dashboard and click the chart icon directly to the right of the ad group or keyword.

Google AdWords-Setting manual CPC bidding

When you click on this icon, a bid simulator will open up that looks like this:

Google Ads -Keyword Bid Simulator

Now you will see what bid levels will drive performance. In the example above, the keyword will net an estimated 15 impressions at the current maximum CPC. (Depending on the situation and bid, you can see the estimated number of clicks, conversions and impressions.) To find out how increasing your bid will impact performance, click on a higher CPC and watch the impressions grow and the traffic flow.

Manual vs. automated bidding: which is better?

All in all, automated bidding is a temporary solution that delivers mixed results. If you are running a smaller account with only a few campaigns, go for it. But, in the long run, manual bidding is the best long-term solution for most business accounts.

There are, however, a few situations where automated bidding strategies make the most sense. For example, automated bidding rules are a great way to manage efficiencies within your Ads accounts. You can use automated controls to monitor a keyword’s impressions compared to its CTR and conversions. If the CTR and conversions are too low, you can set an alert that will notify you to go in and take a closer look. If you think the keyword is underperforming, you can then manually pause it. This tactic is helpful if you have a large paid search account and need to focus on top-performing terms.

So, while manual bidding is more likely to be the way to go, there are instances where it’s worth employing automated bidding strategies. It takes time to know when to use which bidding strategy, but there are so many more ways to manage your account than just flipping a switch and hoping for better results. If you are unsure which method is best for your Google Ads campaigns, you should consult an experienced paid search agency to find the strategy that works best for your business.

This post was originally published in April 2018; it has been updated with new information to help you find the best bidding strategy for your Google Ads campaigns. 

Do you want to learn more about finding the best manual or automated bidding strategies for your Google Ads campaigns? Mindstream Media Group is a Google Premier Partner. Contact us to find out how we can help improve your paid search campaigns.

17 Questions to Ask When You Think it’s Time to Hire a New Paid Search Agency

Ever get a funny feeling that your brand’s Google Ads campaigns or other paid search campaigns could be better? Maybe you’ve been with the same paid search agency for a long time and performance has dropped as the agency has grown complacent. Or, maybe you’re regretting going with that agency who promised the same results and service as the other five agencies you vetted but at a much lower price point. Or, maybe your campaigns are doing just fine, chugging along with decent enough results to stay off the radar even though you know they could be performing better.

Whatever your reasons are, it’s a good idea to regularly review your search campaigns and the agency or agencies running them. To help pinpoint what to look for, we put together this list of 17 questions to ask yourself to find out if now is the time for that review.

See also: [Infographic]: 17 Questions to Ask to Help Decide if Now is the Right Time for That Review

The questions are broken down into four subjects – account management, campaign structure, partnerships and performance reporting – so feel free to skip ahead if you’ve had specific pain points.

Account management

Need a new paid search agency-Account Management

Building successful paid search campaigns starts at the top with high-quality client service and communication. If you think your current agency’s account management is lacking, ask yourself the six questions below to know for sure.

No. 1: How big is the paid search or paid media team running your account?

It’s the agency’s responsibility to appropriately staff your account with the right number and blend of team members. Too few team members and you run the risk of things falling through the cracks and mistakes being made. Too many team members and you’ll end up paying a higher management fee (or your account will become unprofitable for the agency, which means the relationship is probably doomed anyway).

There are a variety of factors that determine how many people an agency will need to appropriately run an account. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula to spit out the right number. The important thing is to make sure your agency has figured out that number for your account and is able to explain the logic behind it.

No. 2: Do you have one dedicated team member charged with the overall strategy of your campaigns?

Depending on the complexity of your account, it may be necessary to bring in multiple paid search specialists to handle day-to-day operations across campaigns. However, there should always be a senior team member directing the overall strategy to keep the team on the same page. Make sure you know who that person is at your agency and have your account manager bring them in for major strategy meetings and performance reviews.

No. 3: Do you have one dedicated team member in charge of strategies across your digital marketing campaigns?

If your paid search agency is also managing other marketing efforts like social media advertising, display campaigns, search engine optimization (SEO), etc., it’s important that they dedicate one person (usually an account executive/manager or digital strategist) to coordinate with each product team. It’s this person’s job to make sure strategies from across your campaigns align to provide maximum ROI for your brand.

No. 4: Are you in the account finding issues and telling your agency to fix things?

If you’re constantly having to audit your paid search account for basic issues and opportunities to optimize your campaigns, that’s a clear sign your agency isn’t performing as well as they should.

No. 5: Is your agency having constant performance issues and/or not taking responsibility for their mistakes?

To be fair, even the best agencies are bound to make the occasional error throughout the course of the campaign. But, if your agency is making too many mistakes, making a lot of big mistakes or not owning their mistakes when they do make them, it may be time to start looking elsewhere.

No. 6: Is your agency prepared to scale into other channels?

This gets into a much larger debate about the value of hiring an agency that specializes in paid search vs. a full-service agency that can manage a variety of marketing campaigns. The argument for the specialty shop is since that’s their only focus, they know it better than most. However, full-service agencies typically have teams dedicated to specific marketing solutions with account/project management specialists to coordinate.

Going with a full-service agency allows you to scale efforts and align strategies across marketing channels. There’s significant value in having the person managing your Google Ads campaigns sitting a few desks away from the specialist managing your Facebook ads or programmatic display campaigns. (And, even if those team members are in separate offices, internal collaboration is still way smoother than trying to coordinate with other agencies.)

Campaign structure

Determining if you need a new paid search agency - Campaign Structure

How your agency organizes your campaigns is a big factor in determining success. Here are some questions to help you determine if your campaigns are set up for success or haphazardly thrown together.

No. 7: Are branded and non-branded keywords segmented?

When consumers conduct searches that include your brand name, it’s fair to assume your ads will perform a lot better than when someone conducts a general search related to your products and services. To conduct a fair analysis of ad performance and optimize your campaigns accordingly, make sure your agency is segmenting branded and non-branded keywords.

No. 8: Are prospecting and retargeting efforts segmented?

You should also set up separate campaigns for different audience targeting strategies. If you’re targeting consumers based on demographics, geo-location and behaviors (i.e., prospecting) and retargeting visitors to your digital properties, make sure those two audiences are separated in your account.

No. 9: Overall, is your account structured in a way that makes sense?

Structure and hierarchy are crucial for Google Ads accounts. While there’s no single perfect way to structure a Google Ads account, there are a lot of wrong ways. If the answer to either of the questions above is no, or you see any other red flags, then it might be time for a more in-depth audit. If you’re not a paid search expert and you’d like to do additional research on campaign structure, Google provides plenty of resources on Ads best practices for you to double check your agency’s work.

Cheatsheet – here are a few basic Google Ads best practices your agency should be leveraging:
  • The account should be split into separate campaigns anytime different settings are needed (e.g., different budget or location targeting).
  • Campaigns should be organized into ad groups by distinct themes, products, services, etc.
  • Each ad group should include relevant search terms and at least three or four related ads.


How to Optimize Location Pages Blog - Featured Image

Part of the reason top paid search agencies consistently execute successful campaigns is they work with industry-leading partners and leverage the most sophisticated tools available. Ask yourself or your agency the following questions to make sure they work with the best.

No. 10: Is your agency a Google Premier Partner?

Google’s partner program helps connect brands with agencies that have passed Google Ads product certification exams and are up to date with the latest product knowledge. Google has two levels of partners – standard and premier – and partners can specialize in a variety of product areas.

On the Google partner page, you can search for either type of partner and check out each agency’s specializations. For example, if you go to Mindstream Media Group’s partner page, you’ll see agency specializations for Search, Mobile, Shopping and Display Advertising, plus all of our individual certifications.

No. 11: Does your agency use bid management software or do they manage budgets manually?

For more complex paid search accounts like those for decentralized multi-location brands, bidding tools are an absolute must. If you have a large or complicated account, make sure your agency is using bid management software to automate routine tasks, optimize campaigns based on the elements that are driving the most value and scale campaigns strategies across locations.

Related – Automated vs. Manual Ads Bidding

No. 12: Does your agency use a call tracking solution?

Call tracking solutions enable advertisers to record and analyze phone calls from paid search campaigns and other marketing efforts. If one of your business goals is to drive calls, make sure your agency has set up call tracking for your campaigns.

No. 13: Can your paid search agency integrate call tracking with other campaign management tools?

But just having a call tracking solution isn’t enough. To make sure you’re getting the right calls, find out if your agency is using a call tracking solution that integrates with other campaign tools. This integration will allow you to identify the campaigns, ad groups and keywords that are generating the most valuable calls (i.e., the ones that produce sales), along with which efforts aren’t providing value.

Campaign performance reporting

New Paid Search Agency-Campaign Performance Reporting

It’s important that paid search agencies take the time to explain campaign performance and have the ability to provide you 24/7 access to reporting. Ask yourself these questions to make sure your agency’s reporting is up to par.

No. 14: Does your reporting show a holistic picture of all your marketing campaigns?

Whether your current agency just manages your paid search campaigns or multiple marketing efforts, it’s important that they’re able to provide comprehensive performance reporting. If they do manage multiple efforts, their reporting should show the relationship between each to paint a holistic picture of how those campaigns work together to improve performance, increase conversions and drive ROI for your brand.

No. 15: Does your agency’s reporting focus on accurately tracking leads and conversions?

Top-of-the-funnel metrics like impressions and clicks can be a valuable indicator of performance but they don’t really tell you whether a marketing campaign is doing what it’s designed to do – increase conversions and drive sales. If your agency’s performance reporting focuses too much on these types of metrics and not enough on high-intent actions like calls, form submissions and visits, it may be time to ask why.

Accurately reporting bottom-of-the-funnel metrics can be difficult and no agency has a perfect system. But as tracking systems become more sophisticated, it’s important that your paid search agency is dedicated to measuring the key performance indicators that provide the most value to your brand.

No. 16: Does your agency use an attribution model that’s customized to meet the specific needs of your brand and accounts for the entire customer journey?

It’s important that your agency attributes performance to the right marketing effort, campaign, ad group, etc., and is able to understand the unique journey consumers take to become your customers. Rarely do consumers view, engage and interact with a single message from a brand. Often, it’s a multi-step process that helps consumers move through a complex buying journey. It’s important that your agency understands that and is able to deploy customized attribution models that match your business model.

Final question

No. 17: How do you feel about your current paid search agency and campaign performance?

If the answers to many of the questions above seemed like a big swing and a miss, it might be time to review your agency partners. Switching can be complicated, but if you’re having reservations about your current agency, don’t let that stop you from finding out what another agency could do to drive better results for your brand.

See also: Signs Your Agency is Slacking

This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated with new information to help your brand analyze the performance of your paid search campaigns.

If you noticed too many red flags, contact Mindstream Media Group today and one of our paid search experts can work with you to take a deep dive into your Google Ads account and identify ways to amplify your campaigns.

Why Higher Costs-per-click Can Be a Good Thing for Google Ads Campaigns

In Google Ads, a major benefit for advertisers is that Google charges when a searcher actually clicks on an ad, not just when an ad is served (i.e., an impression). Here’s how it works: when a user enters a search, advertisers bid for the right to show up in the results based on how much they’re willing to pay for a click, determined by how relevant the search term is to their business. But, ad slots don’t necessarily go to the highest bidders. Google determines ad positioning by balancing the amount each advertiser is willing to pay for a click with how relevant their ad is in order to return the best results for each search.

This setup makes cost-per-click (CPC) – the amount advertisers spend for each keyword – a popular metric in Ads. But, clicks don’t guarantee conversions, and most advertisers are more concerned with the number of qualified leads their ads bring in (and rightfully so).

Still, there’s a pervasive belief among Ads advertisers that lower CPCs mean lower cost-per-lead (CPL) results. But, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Here’s the flip side of that argument: properly-managed campaigns have higher bid amounts for the keywords that drive the most qualified traffic (i.e., traffic that converts to sales). Conversely, these campaigns set lower bids for the keywords that don’t generate sales.

To get a better understanding of this line of reasoning, let’s start with a couple of factors that determine CPC in Google Ads.

No. 1: Google Ads Quality Score

Quality Scores are Google’s way of determining the quality and relevance of ads based on their selected keywords. Basically, the more relevant an ad is for the specific keyword it’s assigned to, the higher the ad’s Quality Score. Higher Quality Scores lead to lower required bids to get into the search results, which means lower average CPC.

A significant factor determining Quality Score is click-thru rate (CTR) which is the number of times an ad is clicked on divided by the number of times the ad is seen. The better a campaign’s CTR, the more relevant the ads are to Google and the higher the Quality Score.

CTR =  Clicks / Impressions

No. 2: Ad Rank

Ad Rank is the average position of a brand’s ads in search results compared to their competitors. An ad’s positioning in a search result can have a significant impact on how often the ad is clicked – and, as discussed in the previous section, CTR is an important factor in determining CPC and Quality Score.

Since getting rid of competitors is unfortunately not an option, it’s important to stay on top of the game by optimizing bids for the right keywords. Is there a secret sauce for this? You bet, and these are the ingredients:

  • Increasing bids on keywords that positively impact conversions, CPL and return on investment.
  • “Pruning” keyword lists by either decreasing bids or pausing keywords that are negatively impacting the account (i.e., those expensive/ineffective keywords that garner clicks but don’t produce conversions).
  • Diving through search term reports and assigning negative keywords (terms your ads won’t show up for) and adding new keywords that are likely to convert.

Focusing on qualified traffic, not clicks

Let’s get back to why higher CPC numbers aren’t necessarily a symptom of underperforming Google Ads campaigns. By looking at industry trends, we can see that average bids (and, therefore CPC numbers) have been on the rise over the past few years. While the impact varies across industries and ad types, it’s important to note that higher CPCs, when handled appropriately, can indicate positive overall performance.

Within reason, higher CPCs are not a problem for campaigns that attract relevant searchers and generate qualified leads. The more aggressively advertisers bid on top-performing keywords, the more likely they are to outrank competitors in the searches that matter most to them. This may increase overall CPC, but the tradeoff is worth it because the traffic from these clicks is more likely to lead to sales.

Advertisers should think about CPC this way: do you want to get cheap clicks from searches that aren’t likely to drive sales, or would you rather pay a little more for keywords that drive conversions and contribute to your bottom line?

3 Tips to Help Multi-Location Brands Optimize Their Local Search Presence

After a couple of years of touting a rise in “near-me” queries, Google recently announced that these explicitly local searches have fallen out of favor. The search company was quick to point out that this didn’t mean local searches were decreasing, just that “over the last two years, comparable searches without ‘near me’ have grown by 150 percent.”

Google’s VP of Marketing for the Americas, Lisa Gevelber, summed it up like this: “We’re now seeing a shift toward dropping location qualifiers (like ZIP codes, neighborhoods and ‘near me’ phrasing) in local search queries, because people know that the results will automatically be relevant to their location — thanks to their phone.”

The implication: As digital platforms continue to customize experiences based on individual users, searchers now just assume – and pretty much expect – Google will know when they’re searching for something nearby and automatically return local search results.

To continue reading, check out the full post on LSA Insider

3 Ways to Control Multi-location Search Competition in the Same Market – In Under 250 Words

Whether from Fortune 500 brands, or the franchisees, dealers and agents along Main Street USA, we bump into this question from search advertisers a lot: “Can we prevent competing against ourselves in multi-location markets?”

The answer is an unsatisfying yes and no. Completely avoiding overlapping budgets and dog-eat-dog competition among multiple locations in the same market is complex. Mitigation of brand concerns in a crowded local market is absolutely possible though. So, in under 250 words, here’s how paid search pros put controls in place to reach consumers and manage budgets without turning same-brand locations on each other.

1. Listings accuracy

While to some this may be stating the obvious, we run into enough advertisers with substantial inaccuracies in their business listings that it warrants a call out. Enterprises must ensure their locations’ business listings are right. This is crucial for search success across the board and helps distinguish individual locations within the same market.

2. Specific targeting

Customize targeting per location to avoid overlap between budgets and territories. It’s a tactic Mindstream Media Group employs for single franchisees/dealers or for those with multiple locations looking to segment budgets and territories. At the franchisee/dealer level, geo-target by ZIP code, radial targeting, city, etc., and implement targeting exclusions to ensure you’re not overlapping local campaigns.

3. Location budgeting

To manage location budgets and accounts for optimal performance by location, we recommend creating unique Google Ads accounts (CID) per location. Even if a franchise owns multiple locations, we still recommend creating an account per location. This allows flexibility and transparency for better campaign budgeting and performance.

Use location bid adjustments to optimize spend and performance by geo-targets to ensure the best use of advertising funds and optimal performance.

Bonus tactics worth using:

  • Unique conversion tracking per location account to track form fills and calls
  • Multiple campaigns directing traffic to location landing pages or joint campaigns using group landing pages
  • Rotating campaigns or joint campaign using landing pages with call routing numbers and menus to distribute calls equitably

Contact Mindstream Media Group to learn more about managing your search campaigns in markets with multiple locations.

The Latest from Google: June 2017

Top Announcements from the Google Marketing Next Event and Posts on Google My Business

Google is consistently looking for ways to deliver relevant and seamless experiences. This is partly because people expect it. More and more people look to digital to have everything they need at any given moment. At last month’s Google Marketing Next event, Google focused on the need for innovation, staying one step ahead of consumers’ needs and the technology to make it happen. Through data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and automation, Google believes it can truly deliver what people want before they even know it. In partnership with advertisers like you, Google wants to enhance workflows, so that you can better understand consumers and act on these learnings to drive better experiences and in turn higher quality leads.

AMP and Google Search

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project is expanding. AMP is all about using speed to provide faster experiences, and recently Google introduced two new ways they are utilizing it for advertising. The first one is a new AdWords beta that uses AMP to deliver fast-loading landing pages for search ads. The new AdWords will be available to all advertisers by the end of the year.

The second is through the Google Display Network, increasing the speed of how ads are served. Google says they have found these ads to load up to five seconds faster than regular ads. Not only are searchers seeing a seamless experience, but according to Google, this feature ensures display ads are seen by your intended audience.

In-market audiences for Search

This feature was first launched in 2013 focusing on targeting ready-to-buy consumers through intent signals like search queries and browsing activity. Google currently offers this targeting on their Display Network and YouTube campaigns, but now it’s coming to Search. According to Google, advertisers have begun using in-market audiences and are seeing a 10 percent increase in conversion rates. There are more than a dozen audiences available to choose from, including autos and vehicles, financial services, real estate and apparel. As a result, advertisers will be able to bid more effectively for higher-qualified leads.

Google Attribution

Google Attribution is designed to answer “Is my marketing working?” A question that has proven to be extremely challenging for marketers across the board. With this new tool, Google hopes to measure various interactions across devices and channels and help make that data actionable. Google explains that by integrating with AdWords, Analytics and DoubleClick Search, you are able to have all this data in one place with a complete view of performance. This alone ramps up the speed of optimizations like updating bids and budget allocation across channels.

Another key feature is the ability to switch to data-driven attribution, which uses machine learning to automatically determine how much to attribute to each step in the path to purchase. The machine analyzes conversion patterns so you can accurately see what’s working.

Unique Reach comes to AdWords Display and DoubleClick

Earlier this year, Google launched Unique Reach for YouTube in AdWords, and now they are expanding this feature to Display campaigns in AdWords and DoubleClick for all video and display ads. Unique Reach measures the number of unique users and average impressions-per-user. Google de-dupes these across devices, campaigns, inventory and formats so you can accurately know your reach. As a result, you can identify how to best utilize your budget.

New AdWords integration: Google Optimize and Google Surveys 360

Google takes A/B testing to another level with Optimize. Without any coding, marketers can create landing page versions for any combination of AdWords campaigns, ad groups and keywords. Optimize can automatically identify which pages are performing and get more value from campaigns.

The Surveys 360 tool allows for survey creation and specific audience sampling. Through the integration with AdWords, advertisers can target surveys to consumers in remarketing audiences. Brands can ask specific questions about experiences with their ads and landing pages to understand impact and guide optimizations.

Google My Business adds posts

Google My Business now has the ability to display posts on listings. For multi-location brands, this new addition provides local business yet another way to connect with consumers, share information about their products and services and stand out from the competition. Posts can be created using the Google My Business Android and iOS apps or website.

Google explains the following new ways businesses can engage with consumers through posts:

  • Share daily specials or current promotions that encourage new and existing customers to take advantage of your offers.
  • Promote events and tell customers about upcoming happenings at your location.
  • Showcase your top products and highlight new arrivals.
  • Choose one of the available options to connect with your customers directly from your Google listing: give them a one-click path to make a reservation, sign up for a newsletter, learn more about latest offers, or even buy a specific product from your website.

Related: 5 steps to optimize your brand’s presence for local searches on Google

As we learn more about these announcements and new features, we will continue to be your resource for the latest and what you need to know. In the meantime, reach out if you have any questions. As a Google Premier Partner, we are ready to help you maximize your advertising efforts.