How to Break Enhanced Campaigns (and Why You Shouldn’t Bother)

For the past several months the paid search world has been in an uproar because of Enhanced Campaigns. While Google’s revisions to the AdWords platform offer many new and fantastic features, these features have often been overshadowed by the controversial “device unification” changes, which require advertisers to combine desktop, tablet, and smartphone strategies into the same AdWords campaign. Many advertisers who are unhappy with the change have attempted to create a workaround that allows them to split their smartphone traffic into separate campaigns. While this workaround has been proven to work, it is difficult to manage long term and the benefits are pretty negligible.

The trick to “break” Enhanced Campaigns and segment smartphone traffic into separate campaigns is easy to set up.

  1. Create an AdWords campaign and set the mobile bid modifier to negative 100 percent in order to completely opt out of smartphone traffic.
  2. Make a copy of that campaign (adding “Mobile” to the campaign name), and set all keyword bids much lower – around 25 percent of the bids in your desktop/tablet campaign is a good starting point. Keep all other campaign settings (geo-targeting, keyword matching, etc.) identical.
  3. Set the mobile bid modifier for your mobile campaign to the maximum boost of 300 percent.

At this point you have two copies of each keyword running. The desktop/tablet campaign is completely opted out of mobile (a standard option in Enhanced Campaigns), so when a smartphone searcher triggers an ad it’s guaranteed to come from your mobile campaign. When a user on a desktop or tablet searches one of your keywords, both copies of the keyword are eligible to show – but the version in your desktop/tablet campaign has a higher bid, and thus it is used the vast majority of the time. In our testing of this solution we found that desktop/tablet traffic initially triggers the mobile campaign less than 2 percent of the time, and as the keywords build history the segmentation settles in almost completely. So the solution works.

But before implementing this strategy, advertisers should take a minute to ask themselves why they’re so desperate to “beat the system” and segment smartphone traffic into separate campaigns. The separate campaigns approach has long been a best practice for several reasons, most of which have been incorporated into Enhanced Campaigns updates Google has rolled out over the past few months:

  1. Unique ad copy/extensions for smartphone ads. Included at launch as a basic piece of Enhanced Campaigns functionality.
  2. Granular, unique smartphone bidding strategy. Addressed by the addition of smartphone bid modifiers at the ad group level. (While keyword level modifiers would be better, this is still a solid solution to this need.)
  3. Unique landing pages for smartphone traffic. Addressed by the addition of the “ifmobile” and “ifnotmobile” ValueTrack parameters, which allow advertisers to set separate landing pages for smartphone users.
  4. Conversion data device segmentation. Addressed by the addition of the “device” ValueTrack parameter – while not all conversion tracking systems have incorporated this functionality yet, most will provide it within the next six weeks.

The only major missing element in Enhanced Campaigns is the ability to specify budget allocation between devices – and this is where the above trick stops working. If the desktop/tablet campaigns are restricted by a daily budget cap, this creates a situation where that version of the keyword sometimes doesn’t participate in the AdWords auction to “block” the mobile copy of the keyword from serving ads to other devices. When this happens, the mobile version of the keyword will be triggered for some tablet and desktop searchers, and advertisers will start seeing traffic from these other devices in their mobile campaigns. While you can use campaign budget caps to limit spend on smartphones with this strategy, restricting budget on the desktop/tablet campaigns causes the solution to break.

An even larger drawback to this strategy becomes clear over time. In order for this solution to work, advertisers must maintain the gap between bids for both copies of each keyword; when the bid for one version of the keyword is changed, the other must be adjusted as well. While there’s some wiggle room and advertisers don’t have to maintain the exact difference suggested above, any reduction in the delta between the mobile keyword’s bid and the desktop/tablet keyword’s bid increases the chances that the mobile version will appear on desktop and tablet searches. No matter what bidding solution an advertiser is employing, this is added work.

While it is entirely possible to completely segment smartphone traffic in Enhanced Campaigns, in my opinion the few benefits of this strategy don’t outweigh the limitations and extra management needed to keep it functioning in on an ongoing basis.

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