Ben Childs
By Ben Childs | Uncategorized | July 14, 2014

Up vs. Out (Part 1)

I was a big fan of computer games growing up, especially the Age of Empires series. It’s a game where you have to balance building your village and its defenses with attacking other players and gathering resources. As a way to spend a Saturday in the late 90’s, it was pretty great.

For the uninitiated, in Age of Empires you start with a single base. You then add some high-value buildings, farm some resources, and level up. At a certain point, it becomes significantly more expensive to level up your own stuff than it does to explore, build out, and find new land and resources. It’s a scary proposition: allocating resources from a place where you’re getting return to a place where you might get none. But, it has to happen for long-term success in the game. The best players have a balance: spend too much time going out foraging/attacking and have no base of resources. Build up your own base and never venture outward and you can only get so big. Up versus Out.

The other day I was thinking about some issues that a client’s account was having and I realized that they were focused entirely on going Up rather than Out.
Building Up (improving CTR, conversion rate, and tweaking bids) is certainly a best practice. If you find something that works, you should squeeze it to get as much value as possible. But, at a certain point, taking your worst performing dollars in the account and giving them a new job is also a best practice.

Every dollar spent in an AdWords account has a job. Most of the job is to bring back as many more dollars as possible (ROI). However, the best accounts assign some of the dollars to different jobs: exploring new frontiers, panning for gold, and relaying the news of success or failure.

This can be scary. The map is dark around the edges of your account, and there will inherently be tales of unsuccessful attempts and “wasted” dollars. You will lose some good soldiers. In aggregate, this practice will almost certainly have a lower ROI. However, the overhead required to find long-term winners will quite often pay for itself many times over. Do it responsibly: a general doesn’t send his entire army around the corner to see if there’s an ambush.

Ways to build up:

Ad Rotations: we’re huge fans of ad rotations (here’s our three part series), and for good reason: they are the easiest way to build your account Up and improve the marginal value of your currently active campaigns. If you’re getting good value from a keyword, and you (responsibly) double its Click-Through-Rate, well, now you’re getting twice as much value from that keyword.

Quality score improvements: this is closely related to the previous point, but working on ad group structure, ad text and landing pages can have a huge effect on your quality score and therefore your bid price. If you have a long-term winner, working to lower cost will only give you more money to play with when it’s time to go Out.

Bid Modifiers: This is an essential “Up” technique. If you’re advertising 24/7, and are limited by budget, odds are you can dramatically improve the account by cutting out the worst hours (or even the worst day). At best, you can tweak the hourly bids to better represent their individual value. Is a click worth the same at 1 am as it is at 1 pm? Probably not. Upward!
Same goes with Geographic targeting- we’ve had fantastic success just turning the worst performing states off. Think of it this way: if you turned off the 25 worst performing states (half!), what would that do to your campaign? If you’re up against a budget, it may be the best thing you ever did. If your budget is in the low 5 digits, try doing this: start at the highest performing state, and then turn others on as you have budget. There’s no rule that says you have to show your ad to everyone.

Conversion rate optimization: This is basically the definition of getting more from what you have. However, Conversion Rate Optimization can have tremendous cross-channel benefits, as the end goal is to make your conversion rate be so good that every little increase in new web traffic becomes pure gold. This gives you even more flexibility to explore Out.

Remarketing: I like to think of Remarketing as conversion rate optimization in reverse. You’re simply maximizing conversions among visitors to your site, but in a different way. In terms of building Up, if you’re bringing people to the site but not bringing them back, you’re missing out on achieving the maximum amount of conversions. If you’ve never done it in AdWords, start here.

Perhaps where Remarketing differs most from CRO is it’s flexibility. Many people remarket, but are you building different audiences? Are you sending out different offers depending on where people dropped out of your conversion funnel? Are you bidding according to how long it’s been since someone came to the site? There are many possibilities!

Match Types: We’re believers in tiered bidding. If your keyword is a long-term winner, bidding more for search queries more closely associated with it just makes sense. If you have a bunch of great keywords on broad match, odds are you’ll love them even more on exact match with higher bids.

Negative keywords: It’s important to block out non-converting queries (note: I like that term better than “bad search.” Sometimes people consider a search “bad” and then it converts, leaving them stuck in a paradox. Take conversions wherever you can get them!) in order to build the account Up. If 5% of your searches were “bad” last month, and you apply negatives appropriately, then your marginal rate of return goes up 5%! (note: that’s disregarding the new month’s non-converting queries.  It’s never too simple.)

Devices: Ever since Google launched Enhanced Campaigns, the biggest issue raised by advertisers has been that it defaults into advertising across all devices. This is something that is consistently neglected in accounts that we see. Suffice it to say: your account probably doesn’t perform equally across all devices. I’m not saying that it performs worse on any given device… but it might. If tablets or phones just aren’t doing it for you, don’t throw good money after bad. Do you have a strategy? Is it time to bite the bullet and pay for responsive design? Just make sure that, whatever you do, you’re the one that decided to do it.

As you can see, there’s a lot to do before you can consider your base complete. Having these best practices in place gives you a solid foundation, because you can be sure you’re squeezing out all the easy wins that AdWords has to offer. It’s important to get the most from the audience you already have before finding new ones.

The best part of the ideas above is that they’re all relatively easy to implement (depending on how you feel about CRO), and the marginal rate of return is usually fantastic. Once you’re built Up, and have that process on a set schedule, the next-best marginal rate of return is surely going to be going Out, which I will cover in part 2 of this post.

What are some of your favorite Up techniques for getting more from a given AdWords audience? What did I miss?

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