Best Practices For Google Enhanced PPC Campaigns

SMX adv up close If you do any pay-per-click marketing, you are no doubt aware that on July 22, 2013 Google is transitioning all AdWords accounts from “legacy” to “enhanced” campaigns. Google gives account owners the option to make the switch over sooner, but after July 22 Google will make the switch for you. If you are curious about how Google envisions the transition process, the company has described the plan on the official AdWords blog.

“Enhanced” is Google-speak for the new PPC system that is designed to simplify ad management and help advertisers reach customers in a multi-device, always-on, location-changing world. Officially launched in February 2013, Google’s enhanced campaign program has been described as one of the biggest changes in paid advertising since AdWords began (though adding the display network was probably bigger).

According to Google, the new enhanced campaign features will bring a number of useful additions to advertiser accounts, including:

Multi-Device Marketing. This is probably the biggest new feature in that advertisers will be able to track conversion performance across multiple devices. A click on a mobile ad leading to a sale on the desktop will be able to be credited back to the mobile click (assuming the visitor is logged in to Google on both devices). Such cross-platform support will be available for combinations of mobile, tablet and desktop.

Context Enhancements. New and better bid adjustments based on dayparting, search location and device. For example, bidding up on your restaurant ad for mobile visitors within 5 miles of your location during dinner hours is now possible.

Better Measurement. Advances in analytics will allow for better segmentation and multi-device marketing tracking.

These new enhancements come with a price in terms of increased complexity, labor hours needed to make the transition, and a lack of historical knowledge of how these new features will interact. In addition, some previous features of Google AdWords (mobile-only campaigns, for example) will no longer be supported.

In the PPC Best Practices in an Enhanced Campaign World session at SMX Advanced, we received real-world news from the trenches reporting on the problems encountered in making the transition and some best practices that are emerging from the migration to enhanced campaigns on the Google AdWords platform. Hearing lessons learned and what worked from other paid search practitioners is a great way to learn and avoid making mistakes. This article describes the main takeaways and highlights from the session.

Panelists included Brad Geddes of Certified Knowledge, Benjamin Vigneron of eSearchvision, and Jeff Allen of Hanapin Marketing. Led by moderator Matt Van Wagner, the session laid out case studies and best practices learned to date. As with anything new, we fully expect that Google will be improving and adding features (and fixing bugs) as the system matures.

Keyword Level Bid Modifier Needed

One of the new features of enhanced campaigns is the use of bid modifiers to influence location, device targeting (phone, tablet, desktop) and time. While these modifiers are helpful, more control is needed. A frequent request by the speakers is for Google to add a bid modifier at the keyword level.

The lack of a bid modifier at this granular level forces some advertisers to develop creative workarounds to order to the controls they desire. For example, Benjamin Vigneron recommended advertisers reorganize their accounts to isolate their top keywords in specific ad groups. Jeff Allen echoed this recommendation and even mentioned that, in some cases, they created ad groups with one top keyword for the utmost control.

Say Goodbye To Mobile-Only Campaigns

Before the introduction of enhanced campaigns, advertisers who wanted to reach only mobile users would create special mobile-only campaigns that fine-tuned the mobile user experience with the selection of keywords, mobile ads and landing pages. Migration to enhanced campaigns eliminates the ability to run a mobile-only campaign.

Brad Geddes described his experience with the enhanced campaigns and mobile. He took 13 accounts that had been all mobile under the legacy system and moved them to the enhanced campaigns in an attempt to answer this question: “With max bid mobile modifiers and only mobile preferred ads, how would enhanced campaigns affect the CPAs?”

To test this, he set the bid mobile modifiers to +300% and made all ads mobile preferred (+300% is the maximum you can set for a mobile bid modifier. Google sets the limits on bid adjustments for mobile devices to be -100%, or in the range between -90% and +300%). In theory, setting the mobile bid modifier to +300% should make the ads less competitive in desktop auctions, thus sending most of the budget to mobile auctions.

What happened? In the 13 accounts Brad tested, the results confirmed that even when you set up the enhanced campaign as much as possible to be mobile-only, you will still get a fair number of ads showing on the desktop. In Brad’s case, under the enhanced campaign, 19% of the ads were shown on the desktop and 81% were shown on mobile devices.

Another important takeaway from the mobile case study was that mobile-optimized ads displayed to desktop users affected the cost per acquisition. In the case studies, CPA shot up under the enhanced campaign. The CPA for the legacy campaign had been $23. In Brad’s case study, under the enhanced campaign because the mobile-optimized ads were now shown on desktops, the CPA shot up to $114 for desktops.

Graphic showing CPA spike after campaign moved to enhanced

CPA Changes After Moving Mobile-Only Legacy to Enhanced Campaign

The other lesson learned with the mobile case study was a confirmation that there is no such thing as a mobile-only campaign anymore even if you set the bid modifiers at the extreme mobile range. If your company is phone based, and you have done extensive testing and optimizing on your mobile sites, you will now have to take the knowledge you learned and apply it back for the desktop experience. Even phone based companies will need to worry about the user experience on a desktop or suffer with higher CPAs.

For mobile-only campaign advertisers still under the legacy system wondering when they should take the plunge, Brad said that he’s leaving his super granulated mobile accounts under the legacy campaign until he has to move them.

Use Bid Modifiers With Caution

The speakers advised using the bid modifiers with caution and to monitor accounts carefully. Jeff Allen warned that his case studies found that bid modifiers caused the CPA to spike on high position keywords.

For example, he described a client site that should have been a perfect candidate for an enhanced campaign, but it experienced less than desirable results when the client was actually transitioned over. In this case, the client was very location-specific, mobile-optimized and used dayparting.

When they moved the campaign to enhanced mode, they adjusted the bid modifiers to be higher (+20%) for the closest radius. For the furthest radius they put a -5% adjustment. On the mobile bid multiplier, they put -30% (which was based on the average mobile to desktop CPA variance). After the move to enhanced, the CPA for mobile shot up 25%! The computer and tablet CPAs remained the same.

The most disturbing result was this: even though they had upped the bid for the closest radius, there were no extra leads. Since this was a significant step backward, they deleted all the bid modifiers. Interestingly, after they did that the CPA dropped 28%.

Be prepared for a learning curve as you move into using bid modifiers with your enhanced campaigns—they don’t always work as expected. To complicate that further, you can set multiple bid modifiers and Google can combine them. Specifically Google says, “When you set more than one bid adjustment in your campaign, the adjustments are multiplied to determine the resulting bid adjustment.”

On a more positive note, Ben liked the location bid modifiers and called them the best benefit of upgrading to enhanced campaigns. Bid modifiers can be applied easily by location in great detail. Ben has elaborated on using location bid modifiers in this recent article on geographical segmentation

More Segmentation & More Adgroups

Google has touted enhanced campaigns as being more streamlined, so it was a bit ironic that one of the best practices discussed in the session was the advice to create more segmentation, not less under enhanced campaigns. Ben Vigneron and Jeff Allen both advised to isolate your top keywords in specific ad groups for editorial and bidding optimization purposes.

Since Google does not currently provide a keyword level bid modifier, many of the workarounds suggested had to do with creating more segmentation and more ad groups to create finer controls. Such a campaign would increase the complexity of managing an account and isn’t a solution that lends itself to scale across a large account.

Ad Group Level Sitelinks

One of the new additions to Google’s enhanced campaigns is the option to add sitelinks at the ad group level. In legacy campaigns sitelinks can only be used at the campaign level.

Brad Geddes commented that, while this feature is nice, it is not well supported. The user interface to set up and manage sitelinks needs improvement. Brad’s wish list would be for Google to provide AdWords editor support for the sitelinks which would improve usability of creating sitelinks and make them more scalable.

Brad’s parting advice on using sitelinks was to not go crazy with them until Google provides more user support for them. Since the site links only show on top ads, he advised that you only build sitelinks for your top ads, not for all the ads in your campaign. Brad recently published an article describing his case study results in testing ad group level sitelinks.

Expect A Learning Curve

There was a general feeling that the move to enhanced campaigns may result in less cost effective campaigns, at least initially. Much of the reduction in performance will be a result of learning the ins-and-outs of the new system.

Jeff Allen described his company’s experience moving legacy campaign to enhanced and the differences. In a 30 day period, they looked at the results of over 50 client accounts with a total spend of over $1 million. Their mobile impressions rose 9% and the clicks were up 45%. Tablet impressions were up 48% and clicks for tablets rose 45%. Computer impressions rose only 5% and clicks went down 13%.

The bad news was that cost per acquisition (CPA), one of the most important metrics in PPC, rose across all devices. Specifically, desktop-delivered CPA rose 12%, mobile CPA rose 40% and tablet CPA rose 13%. Those are frightening numbers for PPC practitioners trying to run cost effective campaigns.

Review Jeff Allen’s presentation now:

Final Takeaways

During the question and answer period, speakers were asked to mention something advertisers should keep in mind as they transition to enhanced campaigns. Benjamin Vigneron went first and said it was important to remember tracking by device to help understand performance.

Jeff Allen mentioned that because the enhanced campaigns were more complicated and (at least initially) not performing as well as legacy campaigns, they found they were shifting budgets away from Google to Facebook, Bing and other channels. Hopefully if more advertisers spoke with their checkbooks, Google will implement more of the requested changes in the enhanced campaigns.

Brad’s final comment was to make sure you are using the correct data in enough granularity to make good decisions. With bid modifiers combining input, it is easy to make a decision on wrong information. He cautioned that you need to be careful to really understand the situation before drawing conclusions. Brad warned that sometimes using AdWords data can be superficial and inaccurate. He recommended a better practice was to focus on using Google Analytics custom reports to analyze data (and not just AdWords tools).

In closing, Moderator Matt Van Wagner reminded everyone that Google will start the transition to convert accounts to enhanced on July 22, but that Google can control the pace of the transition. If Google were to get signals through social media channels that there are major issues with enhanced campaigns, then they might be influenced to slow the transition down. Matt suggested that if you find disturbing issues in the conversion process, use #SlowDownGoogle through social media to try to influence Google’s transition speed of the enhanced campaign.

The clock is ticking. Enhanced campaigns will soon be the reality. If you haven’t moved to enhanced already, put a plan together so your transition is as smooth as possible. As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Google: AdWords | Google: AdWords: Enhanced Campaigns | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is the President and CEO of, a full service online marketing agency that has been helping businesses succeed online for over a decade. Christine and her team of experienced search marketers offer a variety of services including Pay Per Click Management, Search Engine Optimization, Conversion Enhancements and Analytics Support.

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  • David Ogletree

    Seems like you could still do mobile only campaigns. Just set your bids real low and set mobile advertising to increase bids. This way your non mobile ads would hardly show and you mobile ads would.

    Then make a normal campaign with mobile set to -100%

  • Brent Baltzer

    Interesting. We’ve already made the switch, with mixed results. My colleague Ryan Campbell created a free guide for switching to enhanced campaigns for anyone who is making the switch.


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