Should you create device-specific PPC campaigns?
Columnist Aaron Levy, a big advocate of PPC segmentation, discusses the pros and cons of device-specific AdWords campaigns and shares tips on how to get started.
On February 6, 2013, Google announced Enhanced Campaigns, coupling devices together to encourage (nod nod wink wink) the development of mobile-first campaigns. Bing, of course, followed suit soon after.
The PPC world at large was not pleased. I think I speak for many of my peers when I say we’re a group that relishes precise control. While device-coupled campaigns offered mobile-specific messaging, they removed the ability to target mobile/tablet-only keywords or to budget by device.
In late May of this year, Google was kind enough to reverse this most unpleasant change, allowing device bid modifiers as low as 100 percent for each device type. In a manner of speaking, device-specific campaigns are back. Yet there seems to be a bit of chagrin when it comes to relaunching our device-only campaigns, be it due to rising complexity, decreasing tablet volume or the feeling that on the whole, bid modifiers will cover it.
I’ve written previously about my affinity for segmentation, so it should come as no surprise that I (generally speaking) advocate device-specific campaigns. That said, it’s not a simple yes-no decision any more, as there are far more factors at play to ensure account stability.
I’ll walk through some of the pros and cons of device-specific campaigns, then provide some tips for designing them.
Pros of device segmentation
Isolate growing devices. Non-desktop volume is as high as it’s ever been and shows no sign of slowing. We took a representative sample of our largest B2C clients at Elite SEM (my employer) and found mobile made up 60 percent of clicks over Cyber Weekend in 2016, up from 54 percent in 2015.
Adjust bids based on device cadence. Mobile, tablet and desktop show far different performance cadences. I took a sample of a dozen or so enterprise clients across B2B and B2C and found that (shockingly) mobile PPC traffic has a tendency to spike on weekends and in evening/commuter hours, tablets remain more level, and desktop peaks midday. While you can adjust by device by time of day using a device/time-of-day script, it’s far simpler in separate campaigns.
Embrace demographic differences. Household income (HHI), age + gender volume and conversion distribution are all skewed by device. Based on the same dataset above, mobile customers tend to have a lower average order value (AOV) or be more impulsive, while converting at a lower rate. Tablet buyers tend to be older females, while desktops skew slightly male. While these are all bid modifiers, there’s no simple way to modify HHI and gender by device.
Device-specific messaging. In line with performance cadence changes listed above, it’s abundantly clear that searchers have different appetites, needs and patience depending on their device(s). Notwithstanding, the growth of voice search is changing searcher behavior on mobile devices, which requires a separate keyword set as well — a difficult feat to accomplish in combined campaigns.
Performance-based budgeting. Perhaps the biggest asset of device-specific campaigns is budgeting! Creating device-specific campaigns will allow you to distribute budget as you see fit.
Cons of device segmentation
Increased complexity. No shocker here: if you create device-specific campaigns, you’ll have three times as much to monitor. In my experience, it doesn’t necessarily triple the workload, but the fact of the matter is that there are more places to adjust, which in turn yields a larger time investment.
Data shrinkage. If an average campaign gets 100 clicks a day and you craft device-specific campaigns, you’ll likely wind up with 60 mobile clicks, 30 desktop clicks and 10 tablet clicks. When you segment this granularly, you may lose the ability to make campaign-driven or even keyword-driven bid decisions because the dataset is simply too small.
No desktop exclusions on Bing (yet). As of the time of this post, there is no way to create 100 percent device-specific campaigns on Bing, as there is no -100% Desktop bid modifier. My pals at Bing say this is a common request and is likely to change soon; but for now, you’d have to manage both engines completely separately.
They’re not technically supported. You heard right. While Google acknowledges that device-specific campaigns are possible, they’re not supported. You generally need to hack a few things together to ensure full functionality with bidding platforms, namely that back-end settings need to be changed to make the bid tools work properly.
We’ve already seen a few weird quirks pop up — call extensions don’t always create the forwarding numbers if there’s no mobile volume. App extensions don’t always show for tablet campaigns. Bid tools don’t quite behave how we’d expect. Nothing truly problematic, but worth noting if you’re going that route.
We started to hit account limits. I never thought I’d see the day when a million targeting options wouldn’t be enough, but we’re getting there. If you’ve read my previous posts on segmentation, it makes sense, and really, an account with a few hundred campaigns could easily hit limits across channels.
Creating device-specific campaigns
Now that I’ve potentially convinced you at least to create a few device-specific campaigns, there are a few things that I’d recommend you keep in mind as you break things out.
Start with a base device per campaign, focusing on the top volume driver. If a given campaign is 70 percent mobile, clone it twice and devote the other two to desktop and tablet.
Do a bit of napkin math to determine if you think you’re at risk of hitting account limits. On a base level, you should expect three gender modifiers and six age modifiers per ad group, plus likely an RLSA list or two. This would translate to every ad group counting at least 13 ad group targeting items towards the five million ad group targeting items per account limit.
At a campaign level, you’ll have at least six geotargeting settings (the five HHI levels and national), plus likely five to seven bid flights and campaign level negative keywords. This would make every campaign count for about 12 toward the one million setting limit. My math is approximate, of course, but it gives you a starting point.
Set new bids according to your previous mobile modifiers and/or conversion rate. If you don’t necessarily trust your old modifiers, bid based on conversion rate with a small buffer (15 percent) to account for cross-device lifts.
Wipe (or reset) your bid modifiers for device-specific campaigns. Remember, the whole point of this was to bid smarter by device.
Evaluate existing search queries, and determine if you’re missing out on any device-specific terms (like those that may be specific to voice search).
Don’t forget to evaluate your tracking settings and marketing messages at the outset before collecting data. You’ll want to wipe all tracking URLs and start anew with your shiny new device-specific campaigns.
As with any other change, migrate SLOWLY. It’s better to start collecting data a bit at a time than to rip the Band-Aid off. Make the migration during a quieter season, lest you disturb the balance during your busiest time.
So are device-specific campaigns a must?
In short, no. But they should be strongly considered. While I’m clearly a staunch advocate of segmentation, the fact of the matter is that it’s not an automatic choice. Device segmentation isn’t right for every single campaign, keyword or even website.
That said, I strongly urge everyone to evaluate the pros and cons noted above and figure if device-specific campaigns can help to benefit their accounts.
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