When should I advertise on Google AdWords?


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When should I advertise on Google AdWords?

Many businesses advertise on Google AdWords with the view it will bring in lots of quality customers and orders.  Yes, it does have the possibility of doing this, but there is a major caveat.  Unless you have your website in order AND you have each of the web pages that you want to use as landing pages (at a minimum) set up correctly and creating a great experience for your customers / visitors, then you will be wasting your money advertising on Google AdWords.

Google does not do a very good job communicating this to its advertisers and unfortunately many companies that manage AdWords campaigns for businesses also fail to communicate this.  Further, many businesses either don’t want to understand or just don’t know what they don’t know, and the result is that AdWords becomes an expensive channel to acquire customers or generate visitors.  In addition, it is not always easy to understand and it does take time to sit down and make sense of the concepts in order to address the issues when contemplating AdWords or fixing up your AdWords campaign.

The key to making your AdWords campaign effective is understanding Ad rank.  Google have a great video which does explain Ad rank, but what is surprising is despite the billions of dollars that Google receives in revenue each year this video, that explains how Ad rank works, has only been seen 421,000 times between June 18 2014 and today.    The concern we have is that millions and millions of advertisers are wasting their money on AdWords because they do not understand Ad rank and how it impacts the amount of money they spend on each click.  Further, Google in the video tells you how you can reduce the amount you pay per click but is vague in terms of how you find out information to fix the problems and improve your Ad rank.

So lets first talk about Ad rank.  If you watch the video from Hal Varian you will get a great overview of how Ad rank works, however, there are a number of things Hal talks about in the video that are extremely important.  If we start with the key components of Ad rank which are listed below, the part that Google does not disclose is the algorithms behind determining a score for each of these as well as exactly how much each of these influence Ad rank.   The main Ad rank factors are:

    • Expected click thru rate


    • Landing page experience


    • Ad relevance


    • Ad formats


  • Bid

Landing Page Experience

Before advertising on Google AdWords, the landing pages that you are going to use for your AdWords campaigns as well as getting your website in order, are extremely important. Failure to do this will ensure you get a low Ad rank and your AdWords campaigns will cost you a lot more money than they need to.

If you watch the first part of Hal’s video, he emphasises that Google wants people to find what they are looking for.  Google organic search results and AdWords are all about getting a person to the thing they are looking for easily and quickly.  In order to try and work out what a person is looking for, Google have algorithms that collect data on pages to try and determine what an individual page is about, and what type of experience a person will have when they visit a page.

As we mentioned in our article Does a platform do marketing well?, both Moz and Backlinko have tried to work out what the different components of the algorithm are, and there are more than 200.

In the support area of Google AdWords, Google do provide a high level overview of landing page experience, but implementation really means to focus on  these 200 components of the algorithm  in order to ensure your landing page experience rating is above average.  Google of course does not have people reviewing every internet page, but by using data such as bounce rate, page speed, unique text etc, they are able to effectively determine if that page is a page that people are finding useful, relevant, original and trustworthy.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to get your website and pages in order first, before endeavouring an an AdWords campaign.  If your website is slow, or if your product descriptions are the same as 500 other websites because you got them from your supplier or because you have not provided an intuitive navigation system for a customer then it would be recommended you NOT advertise on AdWords.  Spend some time to fix your pages and website so you will provide a great experience for your customers.  This also means considering if your customer is visiting on different devices such as mobile and tablets, as well as a desktop computer. If you do this, not only will you have a better AdWords campaigns, but you will find you may do better in your organic results as well.

Ad Formats

We find the term Ad Formats a little misleading because they are not really an ad format but rather an ad enhancement.  For example when Google talk about Ad Formats you would be incorrect to think of display ads or banner sizes or keywords vs banners ads.  What Google actually mean is there ad extensions and sitelinks which Google provide in addition to an Ad when advertising on Google.  These ad extensions and sitelinks provide the person searching with additional information such as your business location, phone number, rating by previous customers and so forth.  Implementation of these is very easy to do, but more importantly crucial to ensuring you maximise your Ad rank and minimise your AdWords cost.

A word of advice is that you should have your ad extensions and sitelinks all in the same account as the account that will manage your AdWords account.  This should also be the same account as your Google Analytics.  Not compulsory, but highly recommended.  We have seen some businesses who have shops listed under a number of different Google (email) accounts so that when you go to run an AdWords campaign and link Ad extensions, not all the shops or business locations show up.

Ad extensions and sitelinks is an extremely easy way to improve your Ad Rank but surprisingly many business get this wrong by not implementing or by as we outlined above, listing shops or businesses locations in multiple Google accounts rather than one central Google account.  Take the time to do this right, set it up correctly and maintain.

Assuming you have spent time to get all your landing pages and website and Ad Formats set up and operating efficiently, then it is worth considering the other factors that will impact your AdWords campaign.  To do this we need to understand Quality score.

Quality scores

Knowing what to fix or focus on to improve an AdWords campaign can be hard given Google do not make it easy to understand, let alone get data.

The best way to get an indication of how your doing at least in terms of Expected CTR, Landing Page Experience and Ad relevance is with Quality score.  Google does say that “Quality Score is an aggregated estimate of your overall performance in ad auctions, and is not used at auction time to determine Ad Rank“, however, given the lack of any other data this will provide a great starting point and while quality score is not used in Ad rank it does provide the only real indication of these factors.  If you need help understanding how to get your quality score for a keyword campaign there is a lot of information on Google at Google AdWords.


Adwords Factors

When you get your quality score up for say a given keyword then you will get an overall quality score out of 10.  In the example above we get a score of 7 out of 10.  However, what is more important to understand problems is the anecdotal comment Google supply for expected CTR, Ad relevance and Landing page experience.  In the example above we get a “average” score for expected CTR and Ad relevance and an above average score of landing page experience.

The anecdotal rating system is “below average”, “average” and “above average”.  If you get a score of average or above average then Google is saying there is nothing major wrong but you can still do some work to improve.  If you get a score of below average then you you really still have a lot of work to do.  Of course if your at this stage of analysing your quality scores then you should have at least a score of average, if not above average for Landing page experience.  If you have a below average score for landing page experience then you should go back and read the section on landing page experience again and focus on those 200 components of the algorithm.

Expected Click thru rate

If your already running an AdWords campaign, in addition to the expected click thru rate rating, you will also have an actual click thru rate for your keyword.  What is important to understand is that the actual CTR is a relative measure.  For example, CTR for one keyword may be 0.5% and that might get an expected CTR rating of above average while another keyword may get an actual CTR of 2% and a below average expected CTR rating.  When you look at your actual CTR, compare it with your expected CTR rating to get a indication of how well your doing.  Comparing the CTR across different keywords will not help determine if an actual CTR is good or bad.

Looking at an example.  Below are two screen shots of two different keywords (keywords and other data blocked out), one with a quality score of 9 and another with a quality score of 5.  What’s interesting about this example is that the CTR on both of these keywords are well over 20% which if you were getting on most keywords you would be extremely happy.  But as you can see from the examples, just because your actual CTR relative to other keywords is high (or even exceptionally high), at 28.87%, Google believes this is not high enough and provides a rating of “below average” for the expected CTR.  In the second example the keyword has a lower actual CTR at 24.25% but it gets an above average rating for expected CTR.

Quality score 5 out of 10 but CTR is 28.87%
Quality score 5 out of 10 but CTR is 28.87%


Quality score 9 out of 10 and CTR 24.25%
Quality score 9 out of 10 and CTR 24.25%

They key here is to consider your actual CTR together with your expected CTR rating and if your not getting an above average rating then you need to work on your Ad and try some variations to try and get this actual CTR up.  Good practice is to always be running two ads so that there are competing.  Then once the two ads have generated enough comparison data (ie at least 1,000 to 2,000 impressions), stop the ad with the lower actual CTR and write a new ad to compete with the ad with the current highest actual CTR.  This way you are always trying to improve the CTR and therefore your expected CTR rating.

Also your rating can change over time.  For example a competitor may start advertising on a keyword and write a better ad and generate a stronger actual CTR which then may move your expected CTR rating from above average to average.  So don’t rest even when your expected CTR is above average, continue to work to improve your actual CTR to ensure you retain your above average rating.

Ad relevance

Ad relevance measures how closely related your keyword is to your ad.  For example if your ad is for shoes and your keyword is “computer” then clearly your ad relevance would be “below average”.  However, it is not always as simple to solve for ad relevance as this example does, especially if you are trying to increase your rating from average to above average.  As a starting point you need to consider both your ad and keyword and work out if they are specific enough.   For example if you have an ad for “ballet flats” rather than “shoes” and the keyword you targeted was “ballet flats” then this would be more relevant.  However, this may not be relevant enough to get an above average score and you may be better targeting more specific keywords such as “red ballet flats” and an ad for “red ballet flats” to improve your ad relevance and score from average to above average.  The more specific you are the better chance you have at achieving an above average Ad relevance score.

Also review the keywords you target in your page.  On your landing page, hopefully you have determined a unique keyword phrase for each page.  If this keyword phrase matches your keyword in your AdWords Campaign and in your Ad then you should be well on the way to getting an above average score.  If your not you can always check that the keyword phrase on your page is also specific and that Google acknowledges this.  Best way to do this is type in that keyword phrase into Google search and see how you rank.  If your not ranking on the first page or two then you may need to be more specific with your keyword phrase for a page.

Secondly you can also check that your Ad Groups are set up correctly and that each ad group has a specific theme.  If we carry the example above, we may have an ad group for ballet flats and they separate keywords targeting red ballet flats, suede ballet flats and so forth.  What would be wrong to do is set up an ad group with ballet flats and dresses.  These are two very different products and if you have keywords in the same ad group for ballet flats and dresses you may impact your ad relevance.  They key here is to make sure your Ad Group has a tight theme.


    1. Don’t start an AdWords campaign until you get your website and web pages in order.  Make sure you review your website and pages based on the 200 items which make up the Google algorithm to ensure your landing page experience is “above average”.


    1. Make sure you have all your Ad formats set up and that they are all correct.  Make sure all your business addresses and contact details are all managed in the one account.


    1. Compare your Actual CTR with your Expected CTR rating.  Run competitive ads to ensure your always trying to improve your actual CTR and retain an above average expected CTR rating for each keyword.


  1. Ensure that when you set up your ad groups that they have a tight theme and ensure your keywords are specific enough and achieve a rating for Ad relevance of above average.


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