adwords

Thrown to the Ad-Wolves… or, Learn from My AdWords Mistakes

Here at top-secret Juice headquarters, some major new products are in the works, and we want to promote them with Google’s revenue powerhouse (also known as Google AdWords). Thus, after three weeks of self-imposed AdWords boot camp, I have emerged with a few scrapes and burns, along with some tips that I wish I had been armed with since the beginning.

The natural place to start learning about Google AdWords is the official Help Center, an expansive and neatly categorized resource. But what happens if your inhuman schedule or dwindling coffee supplies don’t allow you the luxury of navigating through the help center hierarchy or sifting through its search results? While you might be able to maintain a semblance of a campaign without answering those lingering questions, you run a high risk of letting potential viewers slip away, never seeing your ad, and wasting money on high CPCs (cost-per-click).

You are hereby invited to learn from my mistakes. I am forgoing the usual basic topics in favor of questions whose answers are more time-consuming and tedious to find. It took me a few weeks to get comfortable with AdWords and figure out these answers myself, but it will only take you a few minutes!

Read on to learn the answers to:

  1. How creative should I be with my ad text?
  2. How do I find out what keywords my competitors are using?
  3. Why has Google’s heartless algorithm condemned my keyword as inactive?
  4. How do I get bolded words in my ad?
  5. What is dynamic keyword insertion, and how do I use it?
  6. What is the difference between a campaign and an ad group?
  7. What is the difference between keywords and placements?

1. How creative should I be with my ad text?

When I was but an AdWords newbie, I held the misconception that creative ads were all that I needed to pull in clicks. Pop psychologists might credit my right brain, starved for attention in the left brain’s home turf (programming! algorithms! programming these algorithms!), for seizing upon the opportunity to design some artistic and imaginative ad copy:

The “Viva la Revolucion” ad was my baby. But it turned out to have a face only a mother could love, as evidenced by the zero people who clicked on it. To the stunned disappointment of my right brain, Google AdWords is just as algorithm-fueled as any of Google’s other products. In fact, Google AdWords runs much like the ubiquitous search engine does, treating your keywords, ads, and landing page similar to the way it treats the 1 trillion pages it crawls while looking for content.

2. How do I find out what keywords my competitors are using?

Google won’t tell you—it’s in their privacy policy. But services such as KeywordSpy will. KeywordSpy not only gives you lists of your competitors’ (and your potential) keywords, but provides data for each keyword about other metrics, including as ROI, price per click, and number of competitors.

3. Why has Google’s heartless algorithm condemned my keyword as inactive?

Sometimes, Google will refuse to show ads for certain keywords unless you pay an absurdly large CPC. The large CPC is meant to discourage you from following any of these bad habits:

  • You dumped a lot of unrelated (or weakly related) keywords into one gigantic ad group.
  • Try making many smaller ad groups, each with its own tightly-connected set of keywords. Ideally, every keyword in a given ad group is a synonym for all the other keywords in the ad group. This also helps tremendously with writing ads that use dynamic keyword insertion (see question #5), since forcing ads to accommodate keywords covering a wide range of topics and/or parts of speech makes the ads vague and unspecific. To find keywords that deserve synonym status, use Google Sets. It’s like a thesaurus on steroids.
  • Your keyword, ads, and landing page aren’t “relevant” enough to each other.
  • All members of the Holy Trinity of content (keywords, ads, and landing page) need to draw from the same words to be considered related. Try making sure that they line up.
  • The cost per click you set for that keyword falls below the minimum.
  • This is the nicer way of saying that you have to spend more money.

4. How do I get bolded words in my ad?

You can’t designate specific words to be bolded (or formatted in any way, for that matter). You can, however, make sure to include keywords (words the user types in that you have selected for your ads) in your ad title and/or body. Just as it bolds keywords in search results, Google bolds keywords in ads. Your keywords do not have to be exact matches with the words in your ad. In the example below, a search for the keyword phrase “report automation” produces an ad that not only bolds “report” and “automation,” but also their variants “reports” and “automating.”

5. What is dynamic keyword insertion, and how do I use it?

This technique (sometimes known as “wildcards”) is how eBay and Target can pull off “Buy _____ now” for every conceivable adjective-noun combination. It allows you to make the same ad apply to multiple keywords. The format is:

The word immediately following the colon (no spaces) indicates the word you want to be shown when the keyword is too long to fit in the ad. Since I chose that word to be “executive dashboards,” the ad prompted by a too-long keyword would look like this:

Here is the same ad with other keywords swapped in, thanks to dynamic keyword insertion:

You can tweak the capitalization of the keyword with Google’s guidance, in the form of this handy table and more.

6. What is the difference between a campaign and an ad group?

A campaign is made up of one or more ad groups. Each campaign has one budget (i.e., $10/day) that is shared between all of its ad groups. Each ad group can be customized with different ad variations, keywords, placements, days and times the ad is shown, etc. Therefore, most modifying and experimenting happens on the ad group level.

7. What is the difference between keywords and placements?

Keywords produce what people usually think of when they think of Google AdWords. When a user performs a Google search for a keyword you have selected, your ad appears on the side (or top, if your budget is very generous) of the results page. Placements occur in the “content network,” which is made of individual sites that get paid to show Google ads. If you sign up for a lot of placements, you’ll get a lot of clicks—but only because of the sheer volume of people seeing your ad. In some ways, placements are less targeted than keywords because people who clicked on your ad in the content network aren’t actively searching, as they are when they find your ad through natural searches. There are two types of placements:

  1. Placements You Select
  2. Google’s Placement Tool allows you to browse a gigantic list of sites organized by topic. Any of these sites could have your ad on it. The Placement Tool will also suggest sites and break down your potential audience by demographic.
  3. Placements Google Selects
  4. Google will select sites in the content network based on information from your current campaign. These sites may make up the bulk of your impressions and clicks on the content network and in general (in other words, clicks from the Google’s selected placements may outnumber both clicks from your selected placements and clicks from organic searches).

This list is by no means a comprehensive examination of AdWords, but at least now you can consider yourself three weeks wiser and three weeks closer to writing one that is.