Five Campaign Settings That Can Cost You a Mint

At just about any search marketing conference, someone will ask for a quick site review in a session Q&A because their company has been getting little or no search engine referral traffic. The moderator will stand up, tap a couple of keys, squint, smile, and announce that the company’s robots.txt file has been set to no-index site-wide, essentially barring search engine spiders from indexing any of the pages.

The basics aren’t sexy, but getting them wrong always costs you dearly.

The same logic applies to paid search. Companies can waste a lot of cash if they neglect the Campaign Settings screen in Google AdWords. Because the interface has undergone significant changes, it’s a good time for a refresher. Here are five of the most critical settings, with advice on how to approach them.

Geography. There are a few things that can be off with your geographic parameters. If you’re selling in multiple countries, make sure nothing’s left out. More precisely, you may want to break things out into multiple campaigns so you control bids by country. It’s all well and good to bid to a metric like cost per order, but if you’re optimizing to the global aggregate figure, maybe you’re paying $4 a click to always show up in ad position 1.0 in Brazil, when you don’t have to pay that much. In other cases, in local targeting, you could be using an imprecise setting, or casting too broadly or too narrowly. Study the options closely.

Networks. Need I remind you that you are opted in to all of Google Search, the partner network (Ask, AOL, and the like), and content targeting (AdSense publisher Web sites) by default? You need a specific strategy around distribution, so go back and don’t just take the opt-ins as given. If nothing else, bid differentially (usually lower) on content targeting, and manage to your target metric. That’s not the only refinement you’ll need to incorporate, but it’s a start. Many advertisers will want to progress to more advanced media buying methods, so they’ll set up a managed placements campaign and manage it separately. The strategy for more advanced advertisers could include different ads and landing pages for their network placements.

Ad serving. Ad testing is the backbone of an economically efficient campaign. But the default is “Optimize” – a setting that may be more favorable to Google than to your business. Check and check again, as this default is so easy to forget to change (to “rotate”). You’ll want to be testing two or three ads in each ad group, and comparing performance on your target metric. You might even get to the stage of a multivariate test of something like 16 ads. Conversely, some campaigns suffer from low CTRs (define) and poor Quality Score potential. Try rescuing them with the “Optimize” setting.

Other key account parameters might be located elsewhere in the account, or may exist in some accounts, and not others. For example:

Conversion tracking. If someone set up the account’s preferred conversion type some time ago, unless you double-check this, how do you know if you’re not counting, say, a weak definition of a “lead”? Or did the former account manager lump in several conversion types into the tracking setup, some of which are no longer seen as hallmarks of a successful site visit? Go in and make sure.

Automatic matching. This one’s fun. It’s available to some advertisers, and not others. (For simplicity’s sake, call it a limited beta.) If it’s enabled (or disabled for that matter) for your account, the setting appears on the Campaign Settings screen near the bottom. If not, no worries. Automatic matching is worrisome in that it uses your “surplus budget” to create ad impressions in a way similar to an obscure setting called “Budget Optimizer.” The effect is clear: you’re opted in to a discretionary program that Google’s system takes as license to show ads to “spend your budget.” By definition, it sounds likely to be much less efficient than your normal campaign operation, so be leery of it.

Golf analogies are hard to resist when it comes to paid search. Instinctive athleticism is great for some, but it’s a pretty universal maxim that poor setup leads to poor results. Every so often – but especially if inheriting an account from another campaign manager – go through and check these fundamentals, because things tend to drift over time.

To succeed in paid search, you don’t need to truck in esoteric philosophies or be born with the eye of Michelangelo. We’re more like pro golfers. “Out here” on our “tour,” we win with consistency and attention to detail. Even skilled amateurs benefit immensely from proper fundamentals.

Related reading

Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Man chatting with chat bot on smartphone vector illustration