About the author : Joni holds a PhD in marketing. He is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at Qatar Computing Research Institute and Turku School of Economics. Contact: joolsa (at)

A Little Guide to AdWords Optimization


Hello, my young padawan!

This time I will write a fairly concise post about optimizing Google AdWords campaigns.

As usual, my students gave┬áthe inspiration to this post. They’re currently participating in Google Online Marketing Challenge, and — from the mouths of children you hear the truth ­čÖé — asked a very simple question: “What do we do when the campaigns are running?”

At first, I’m tempted to say that you’ll do optimization in my supervision, e.g. change the ad texts, pause add and change bids of keywords, etc. But then I decide to write them a brief introduction.

So, here it goes:

1. Structure – have the campaigns been named logically? (i.e., to mirror the website and its goals)? Are the ad groups tight enough? (i.e., include only semantically similar terms that can be targeted by writing very specific ads)

2. Settings – all features enabled, only search network, no search partners (– that applies to Google campaigns, in display network you have different rules but never ever mix the two under one campaign), language targeting Finnish English Swedish (languages that Finns use in Google)

3. Modifiers – are you using location or mobile bid modifiers? Should you? (If unsure, find out quick!)

4. Do you have need for display campaigns? If so, use display builder to build nice-looking ads; your targeting options are contextual targeting (keywords), managed placements (use Display Planner to find suitable sites), audience lists (remarketing), and affinity and topic categories (the former targets people with a given interest, the latter websites categorized under a given interest, e.g. traveling) (you can use many of these in one campaign)

5. Do you have enough keywords to reach the target daily spend? (Good to have more than 100, even thousands of keywords in the beginning.)

6. What match types are you using? You can start from broad, but gradually move towards exact match because it gives you the greatest control over which auctions you participate in.

7. What are your options to expand keyword base?┬áLook for opportunities by taking a search term report from all keywords after you’ve run the campaign for week or so; this way you can also identify more negative keywords.

8. What negative keywords are you using? Very important to exclude yourself from auctions which are irrelevant for your business.

9. Pausing keywords — don’t delete anything ever, because then you’ll lose the analytical trace; but frequently stop keywords that are a) the most expensive and/or b) have the lowest CTR/Quality Score

10. Have you set bids at the keyword level? You should – it’s okay to start by setting the bid at ad group level, and then move gradually to keyword level as you begin to accumulate real data from the keyword market.

11. Ad positions – see if you’re competitive by looking at auction insights report; if you have low average positions (below 3), consider either pausing the keyword or increasing your bid (and relevance to ad — very important)

12. Are you running good ads? Remember, it’s all about text. You need to write good copy which is relevant to searchers. No marketing bullshit, please. Consider your copy as an answer to searchers request; it’s a service, not a sales pitch. This topic deserves its own post (and you’ll find them by googling), but as for now, know that the best way (in my opinion) is to have 2 ads per ad group constantly competing against one another. Then pause the losing ad and write a new contender — remember also that an ad can never be perfect: if your CTR is 10%, it’s really good but with a better ad you can have 11%.

13. Landing page relevance – you can see landing page experience┬áby hovering over keywords – if the landing page experience is poor, think if you can instruct your client to make changes, or if you can change the landing page to a better one. The landing page relevance comes from the searcher’s perspective: when writing the search query, he needs to be shown ads that are relevant to that query and then directed to a webpage which is the closest match to that query. Simple in theory, in practice it’s your job to make sure there’s no mismatch here.

14. Quality Score – this is the godlike metric of AdWords. Anything below 4 is bad, so pause it or if it’s relevant for your business, then do your best to improve it. The closer you get to 10, the better (with no data, the default is 6).

15. Ad extensions – every possible ad extension should be in use, because they tend to gather a good CTR and also positively influence your Quality Score. So, this includes sitelinks, call extensions, reviews, etc.

And, finally, important metrics. You should always customize your column views at campaign, ad group and keyword level. The picture below gives an example of what I think are generally useful metrics to show — these may vary somewhat based on your case. (They can be the same for all levels, except keyword level should also include Quality Score.)

  • CTR (as high as possible, at least 5%)
  • CPC (as low as possible, in Finland 0.20ÔéČ sounds decent in most industries)
  • impression share (as high as possible WHEN business-relevant keywords, in long-tail campaigns it can be low with a good reason of getting cheap traffic; generally speaking, this indicates┬áscaling potential; I’ve written a separate post about this, you can find it by looking at my posts)
  • Quality Score (as high as possible, scale 1-10)
  • Cost (useful to sort by cost to focus on the most expensive keywords and campaigns)
  • Avg. position (TOP3 is a good goal!)
  • Bounce rate (as low as possible, it tends to be around 40% on an average website) (this only shows if GA is connected –> connect if possible)
  • Conversion rate (as high as possible, tends to be 1-2% in ecommerce sites, more when conversion is not purchase)
  • Number of conversions (shows absolute performance difference between campaigns)

That’s it! Hope you enjoyed this post, and please leave comments if you have anything to add.

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