How to improve AdWords performance

14 Jan

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is such a crucial part of any online business these days that it is imperative to continually improve performance. PPC is a great model for advertisers because it is most contextually relevant form of advertising and is instantly measurable. It can put your company, and what you’re offering, directly in front of the people who want to see it. If the visitor clicks on your Ad, the potential customer is then on your landing page so now it is all up to you. Can you convert them?

Google’s Adwords (which I will be focusing on here), uses principles which reward good Ads. This is because Google wants relevant results for peoples searches, as this is the purpose of the search engine. If the AdWords Ads are more relevant, more people will click-through, and thus more money for Google! This model has enabled Google to make a huge amount of money ($28 billion in 2010), but they can only make more by making the Ads more and more useful to people searching. For more on why PPC is so great, see my post on this exact topic.

So how do you improve AdWords performance? I follow these three basic principles.

1. More relevant keywords

2. Know your audience

3. Improve your Ad quality score

Simple, right? Well it gets a little more complicated, but nothing too difficult when on a small scale (it’s just a problem on the large scale!). So lets delve into the detail…

1. More relevant keywords

Getting more relevant keywords is critical as these are the terms which people are searching. So you want to show them your site, if that’s what they are interested in. If they arrive via an irrelevant keyword (i.e. someone searches ‘Kenyan football’ and they end up on a Oak furniture eCommerce site, extreme example I know) they are likely to leave immediately and waste your well-earned budget (and this, in turn, will reduce point 3 – your quality score). These are the main points I try to focus on. I will not apologise for mentioning relevancy.. a lot!

a) Keyword matching

Keyword matching helps make your keywords more specific and remove unwanted clutter. There are four types: Broad, Phrase, Exact and Negative matching.

Broad match should be generally avoided as it is very vague. For example, if your using the keyword ‘Google Analytics’, a person could search for ‘Google Calender’ and come up with your rather irrelevant Ad, as they both have the keyword ‘Google’. Not ideal! This problem can be solved however by using either Phrase or Exact matching, or to a lesser extent, negative matching. With phrase matching of the keyword ‘Google Analytics’ it will have to include the two words, but it could extend either before or after by an unlimited number of words. For example, someone searching ‘Increasing web conversion using Google Analytics’ could be shown your Ad. More relevant, yeah!

On the other hand, you could use exact matching, where only someone searching the specific term ‘Google Analytics’ would come up with your Ad, so this is super relevant (although it won’t have a broad scope). The final aspect of keyword matching is negative matching. This is where terms, which are maybe common additions to you keyword, being unwanted. For example, if you didn’t want any results for ‘Google Calender’, you could simply make ‘Calender’ a negative term and it will bother you no more! If you are using broad matching keywords, I recommend using negative keywords as well.

b) Focus on long-tail for new customers

As you can see from the graph inset, it is normal for a website to have a few keywords/phrases which are used the majority of the time (known as the head). As you can also see there is a large number of keywords/phrases used sparingly. However, when aggregated, the total of visits from long-tail terms is usually higher than that for the head terms.

Many companies when using PPC only use the main keywords/phrases which receive the most hits. That is all well and good but they are missing out on all the long-tail visitors who are incredibly monetizable. Head keywords/phrases are typically made up of brand mentions, or something super specific to you. In that case, you should really be using SEO to leverage your website as you are already super-relevant to the searcher.

On the other hand, the long-tail keywords/phrases are typically more broad searches often within the category of your website service. This usually includes a high percentage of new visitors as they didn’t use a branded search. Long-tail is harder to leverage with SEO as the searches are more vague and so many websites will offer a similar relevancy to yours. This problem can be solved however, as this is where PPC comes in! Long-tail has a lot less competition and will therefore be cheaper, but will bring in lot’s of new customers to your website. Great!

Remember that long-tail searchers are new customers so you should regard them as that when you are measuring keyword performance (i.e. use bounce rates and time on site as your goal metric). Head searchers are super specific to your service so should be treated as such, and measured on conversions to your particular goals (i.e. product purchased or signed up to emails). This is a great opportunity to match your keyword groups to your customer purchase cycle, which of course, has different goals at different stages and thus different measures of success. So if you are keen on customer acquisition, focus on the long tail!

c) Test whats changed

Since there is such a huge amount of keyword data that you are dealing with, it is important to prioritise what to use your valuable time on. A great way to do this is to see how the performance of your keywords is over time. Any significant changes can then actioned upon immediately.

2. Know your audience

a) Targeted

Knowing your audience is a basic principle that is needed across all marketing channels, and there is no change here. AdWords allows you to target who views your Ads down to the location and language. This is an obvious requirement for your business as if you’re a UK-based company, you don’t want irrelevant searchers clicking on your Ad and wasting your budget in Australia!

b) Using the Google Display Network

The other factor with audience is whether to use the Google display network. The Google Display Network gives you the opportunity to advertise to Google’s partner sites. This can be in the form of text Ads similar to what you find in paid search results, or in the form of display Ads which are image based. Treat the Display Network separately as the potential customer is at a different stage of the buying cycle. Display Network is contextually relevant in the sense that the websites will be targeted so there will be a category relevence, but there is no time relevance as with paid search. This is because they are earlier in the purchase cycle and are less likely to be looking for your service. However, Display Network is still hugely effective if leveraged properly. This is especially the case with strong imagery with clear calls to action, or simply as a brand awareness campaign. I won’t get into it now, but using Google Remarketing on the Display Network techniques have proven to be incredible effect due to it’s highly targeted and relevant nature.

3. Improve your Ad quality score

a) Use super relevant keywords and insert price (if applicable)

You should use your highest converting keywords within the Ad copy. Keywords within the Ad which are searched will appear bold which will make them stand out more to the searcher. Within the Ad you only have a headline, two lines of text (95 characters each) and a link to use. There should be a clear call to action to attract the searchers attention. A common way of doing things if your an eCommerce site and selling a product is to put the product description on the first line and then the deal on the second. For example, ‘Sale now on – only 2 day remaining’. Another great optimisation technique is to add /{KeyWord} to the end of your display URL’s. This dynamically inserts the users search query into it, and could help your click through rate and quality Score.

b) Optimised and relevant landing page

Previously not a factor, the landing page is now important in determining your quality score. This is as Google wants more relevant Ads to benefit the searchers. So the landing page should be relevant to the Ad, doing exactly what the Ad suggests. The customer intent and the webpage’s purpose should be aligned (to borrow a phase from Avinash Kaushik). This includes having a clear call to action and good load times.

c) Test variations

Test, test and test some more! It is so easy to create multiple variations of Ads that it would be silly not to. Continuous improvement by seeing what converts best will put you on the road to being a PPC king!


This blog takes particular thanks to Avinash Kaushik, who provided lots of insights through his brilliant book Web Analytics 2.0.

One Response to “How to improve AdWords performance”


  1. Why does PPC work so well? « Digital and Data-driven Marketing - January 15, 2012

    […] keywords, knowing your audience and improve your Ad quality score (more on how to improve these here), can make you website revenue increase […]

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