Last Updated: 21 Nov 2020


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AdWords Basics: Helpful Tips & Tricks

  • Adwords are pay-per-click ads. You basically bid on the words that you think will be searched by people looking for your product, and then you can display a small ad in the search results.
  • Ads are priced on both a quality index and a price index… you can either improve your quality (click-through percentage and landing page quality) or up the price of the ads in order to get them higher up.
  • Only between eight and eleven ads are displayed on the first page of search results, and you almost always want to be on the first page.

Writing Ads

  • Ads are three lines long.
  • You want a call to action on the first line, and then supporting text on the next two lines.
  • You can use {keyword:sub} to insert the keyword that the user searched for in your ad. If the keyword is too long, it will automatically insert whatever you put for 'sub'. You can also use {KeyWord:sub}, {Keyword:sub} and a number of other variations for capitalization.
  • In your Campaign Preferences, you want to set your ads to 'Rotate Evenly'. This means two (or more) ads show the same number of times, which means you can do proper A/B testing of your ads. This is better than 'Optimized' mode, which gives weighting preference to the ad that is doing better.

Types of Matches

  • Broad Matches e.g. ftp space mean the words in the phrase can be used in any order, with any other words. Frustratingly, Google introduced 'expanded broad match' in recent years, which means your broad match terms may also match for things that Google thinks are related. For example, if you have 'startup employees' as a keyword, it might also match 'startup people' or 'startup hiring'. Sometimes this is good, but often means that you're matching for words that aren't really relevant.
  • Phrase Matched e.g. “ftp space” mean the words in the phrase must be used in order, but can be surrounded by other words
  • Exact Match e.g. [ftp space] means the search must be for those words alone

Generating Keywords

  • Generally, I use the same keywords for ads and search engine optimization. If you haven't yet generated a list of keywords for SEO, take a look at the Choosing Keywords section of the search engine optimization page.
  • You must group keywords in tightly related Ad Groups. This will boost your CTR for the ad and the account, and thus increase your Quality Score and decrease your CPC. The general rule of thumb is to have 10-20 tightly correlated keywords per Ad Group, although there is no hard-and-fast rule. Some Ad Groups may have only one, others may have dozens. Personally, I've found that fewer is better.
  • You can run a 'Search Query Report' from the reporting section of your AdWords account, which tells you what terms people actually searched on to get your ad to trigger. I like running these for a single Ad Group at a time, and then optimizing my keyword list based on that data. Ultimately, you want to get to a situation where you have few or no Broad Match keywords, and lots of Phrase Match or Exact Match keywords. This is because the Broad Match keywords typically return a lot of junk, and that means you're spending dollars on ads that aren't relevant or converting.
  • If you still feel like you need Broad Match keywords, check your Search Query Report for terms that are getting clicks but are not relevant. For example, I found that ads aimed at 'ftp space' were showing up when people searched for 'myspace', apparently because both have the keyword 'space'. Once you've found these terms, add them as Negative keywords.


  • Google Ad Position is based on Quality Score * Max CPC you've bid.
  • When you start out, you should bid a CPC that puts you in the upper middle range for the first page of results, and let it run for a few days. Then you get 100 or so clicks, and you'll know where your ad position is, and what your avg cost per click is. Then you can either:
    • adjust your ad: try to make it more relevant
    • adjust your CPC, either up or down to get a higher or lower position.
  • You generally want to bid for the 4-6 position. Some people say that positions 1-3 don't convert as well, and positions 7-8 are only so-so. 8-11 don't even always appear on the page, depending on which layout Google chooses. So 4-6 is probably where you want to be.
  • You can get some sort of a guess on how much traffic you're going to get using the Google Keyword Tool

Quality Score

  • As noted, the position of your ad is based on the quality of your ad combined with the price per click you're willing to pay. If you can increase your Quality Score, that means you can pay less money for the same click.
  • Google also uses a Quality Score (albeit a different Quality Score) to set the minimum bid for your ad to appear on the first page of search results.
  • Both Quality Scores are based on a number of similar factors. For the minimum bid calculation:
    • The keyword's historical click-through rate. Interestingly, the historical CTR is stored at the account level, so moving a keyword from one Ad Group to another doesn't reset the CTR. This is weighted so that newer clicks count for more, meaning all is not lost if you're trying to improve ad position.
    • Relevance of the keyword to the ads in the Ad Group. The basic idea here: create the ad so that it contains keywords from the Ad Group. FYI, while using the {KeyWord:sub} syntax can help your CTR (the ad appears more relevant to people who then click on it more), it doesn't help the relevancy rankings.
    • The quality of your landing page. Google's bots actually go out and look at your landing page, and decide if it looks relevant to the keywords that you're trying to advertise for. If it isn't, they lower your page quality score. To see what Google sees, use their External Keyword Tool and base your search off website content. Look at the 'common terms' that they come up with; your landing page should have a lot of the same terms as the ad does.
    • Overall account history. An account with a higher overall CTR will have ads with a higher quality score. What this means is that ALL your keywords and ads are in play, so you'll want to make sure you get a good CTR for all of them.
    • The historical CTR of display URLs in the account. This basically gives a boost to new ads: if you're using the same display URL as another ad, and that ad already has high CTR, the new ad/keyword combo will be treated more favorably.
  • That's the overview of Quality Score as it pertains to minimum bid. The Quality Score as it pertains to ad position is similar, but slightly simpler:
    • The historical CTR of the ad, display URL and keyword on Google. Appearently, only traffic on (not its search partners) counts.
    • The relevance of your keyword and ad to the search query.
    • Overall CTR for all keywords in your account. Again, the theory is that if you have a higher CTR across all ads in your account, you're likely to be more relevant to the searcher.
  • If you want to increase your Quality Score (and who doesn't!?), RedFly has a good article. GeoNexus also has a good article.

Ongoing AdWords Maintenance & Optimization

  • AdWords need regular care and feeding to make sure that they are performing in the best way possible. If you're actively managing an AdWords account, or you're spending a lot of money, you should look at it once a week. For smaller accounts, once a month is usually sufficient.
  • The management process involves a few steps:
    • Look through each Ad Group for under performing keywords. You should set a minimum CTR or max CPA that you expect to get for all ads on your account. (All things being equal, I use 1% CTR). Then, delete or move any keywords that aren't meeting that requirement.
      • You can also run site/keyword performance reports to help you with this.
    • If you move them, you obviously want to move them to an Ad Group where you think they'll do better. That may be an existing Ad Group, or it may be a brand new Ad Group with a more targeted ad.
    • Review the Search Query Report and Google Analytics' Keyword Report for any keywords that might be new. Every six months or so, you may also want to do a full new keyword research/analysis project to see if anything has popped up.
    • Assuming that you've setup conversion tracking, monitor your CPA and make sure that isn't getting out of whack.
    • For each Ad Group (you did create a whole bunch of tightly coupled ad groups, didn't you?), try running A/B tests and adjust your ads to see if you can improve your CTR. Keep in mind that improving your ad to increase CTR and your quality score helps lower your CPC.

Ad A/B Testing

  • You should test everything related to your ads, and Google provides good tools for A/B testing.
  • If you want to do an test of creative, Google lets you do this right from the AdWords interface. Just enter two (or more) ads for a given Ad Group, make sure your ads are set to 'Rotate Evenly' in the Adwords settings, and go to town.
  • If you want to test something like price, the best way to do it is to set the price to $A, and let the ad run for a week. Then set the price to $B, and let the ad run for another week. The problem here is that outside variables can affect the performance. For example, if you're selling business products, and you ran one ad over the week of Christmas and New Years, and another ad the first week of January, you would probably get skewed results because nobody buys business products over Christmas.
  • Regardless, you want to be as methodical as possible about your testing. Change only one element (the price, or the position using the position preference feature, or just the headline, or just the URL, and see what happens.


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