4 Google Ads Custom Columns you need to use – and why

Here's how to use Custom Columns for surfacing trends and insights and answering your most important Google Ads account-related questions. 

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If you’re a control-loving performance marketer like me, Google hasn’t given you many reasons to smile lately in its headlong rush toward an AI-driven world. 

But there is one that has the potential to provide incredibly helpful PPC reporting nuance and customization for marketers who know how to use it.

Yup, I’m talking about Custom Columns, my favorite Google update of 2022.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What Custom Columns are.
  • Why marketers should use Custom Columns.
  • The four most important use cases I’ve seen in action.

What are Custom Columns?

Custom Columns are reporting columns you can create in the Google Ads UI to provide metrics and calculations important to your specific business.

They allow you to expand reporting outside of what’s pre-built in Google Ads. They’ve existed for almost 10 years, but they got a big upgrade about a year ago that Search Engine Land contributor Greg Finn covered in good depth.

Why marketers should use Custom Columns

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible use cases for Custom Columns.

I’ve found Custom Columns particularly useful for businesses with more than one conversion type because you can associate a variety of metrics according to different conversions. 

With Google (along with Microsoft, Meta and everyone else) moving hard toward AI and automation, one of the few remaining controls marketers have is feeding offline conversion data into Google’s system to improve the precision of bidding, targeting, etc. Custom Columns reporting is key to this functionality.

For businesses with a single conversion type, though, Custom Columns can be used to set up quicker and more efficient trend recognition that can help give marketers a competitive edge. It can even keep Google from getting overaggressive on budgets, as we’ll show in one use case.

Use case 1: Segmenting by conversions

I most frequently use Custom Columns to analyze different conversion types – lead, MQL, SQL, opp, trial, subscriber, etc.

This custom column type can be used for any industry and any business using multiple conversion actions.

Custom columns example
Custom columns example

The above data gives you extremely useful insights into each conversion stage.

You can also look at different views to see which search terms, keywords, and ads drive them, which lets you get very specific about places you need to optimize, cut, or increase budget.

If you’re not using this functionality, you’re making any optimization decisions based on one roll-up view. This doesn’t matter if you only have one conversion type, but it means you lose lots of precision if you have more than one. 

Let’s say, for example, that a campaign is driving high volumes of leads and MQLs but rarely driving SQLs. 

This may mean that you’re pouring money into audiences that may love what you offer and are taking the initial desired actions but can’t move past the sales qualification stage because of size or budget. 

Knowing this would help you scale back spend without any revenue impact – and would be great information to feed back to the Product team.

Use case 2: Average conversion costs for specific time periods

Another favorite use case of mine is analyzing average conversion cost for a certain time period, whether that’s yesterday, last week, the last 30 days, etc. 

I’ve used this for all conversions and by conversion type – it’s useful for all scenarios. 

Use case 2: Average conversion costs for specific time periods

Whatever your time period, fixing the range and comparing metrics to historical data is a great way to see where costs are significantly above or below average. 

This enables adjustments to budgets and bidding and helps you catch issues before they can snowball. The comparison columns align much more cleanly than Google’s general UI.

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Use case 3: Competitive analysis

Want to look good for your client or exec team? 

Build a custom column that looks at decreases in click-through rate and increases in CPC to gauge potential market competition and activity. 

Flagging data here can help indicate when to look into Auction Insights to see what’s going on externally. 

Use case 3: Competitive analysis

This is extremely helpful for monitoring activity on brand keywords (e.g., competitor poaching), but it’s valuable information for key non-brand terms as well.

Increased costs and competition could be a great trigger for testing new ad copy and differentiators (or taking on competitors directly in ad copy). And it’s great information to relay to higher-ups who crave information on what competitors are up to.

If you’re not using this column set-up, you’re likely over-reliant on Auction Insights to catch competitor activity. Auction Insights are helpful, but they leave much to be desired in recognizing trends – a gap that Custom Columns can close for you.

Use case 4: Spend anomalies

How many of us (raises hand) have seen Google take liberties with budget caps? 

To combat this, I like to build a column to identify spend anomalies. It essentially flags instances where yesterday’s spend was more than 120% of the average spend over the last seven days. 

Use case 4: Spend anomalies

These fluctuations are important to spot and diagnose in touchy accounts, especially bigger-budget accounts. Adding this column means you won’t have to rely on your normal reporting cadence to catch them. 

Assess irregularities at the campaign, ad, and keyword levels, and make sure performance is justifying reasons for increased spend and that Google’s not just going a little rogue. 

Whether the performance is or isn’t the reason for the spend increases, calling out the alerts and subsequent findings is great EQ for your client or manager. In extreme cases, it can cause you to engage your Google rep for some make-good requests.

Using Google Ads’ full functionality

The 2022 updates added tons of agility to Custom Columns. If I had a wish list for other reporting features, it’d be short. (But since I mentioned it, I’d love to see competitive metrics like top-of-page and absolute top-of-page rates, plus a less glitchy UI that helps troubleshoot formula errors.)

At this point, it falls on marketers to learn to use the tool’s full functionality, which shortens the analysis/action loop by keeping everything directly in Google’s UI.

Custom Columns can help you surface trends and insights to answer some of your most important account-related questions. 

Even for the most straightforward ad campaigns, the different views available by date range and formula functionality represent a chance for you to go from Google Ads Data 101 to EQ and analytics powerhouse – all for the cost of a little elbow grease.


Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.


About the author

Laura Schiele
Contributor
Laura Schiele, Head of Paid Acquisition at Jordan Digital Marketing, has nearly a decade of experience in paid media strategy and execution in both agency and in-house accounts and uses advanced analytics skills to scale growth within efficiency goals across Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and more. Laura manages a large team of paid media experts remotely from her home in Burlington, VT.

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