3 Tips on Bid Adjustments in Google Ads

Three things to look out for when making bid adjustments in Google Ads search campaigns.

Knowing what people are looking for, is what makes paid search such an effective form of advertising…

But the deeper into it you get, the more you’ll be looking at – and making use of – other variables around the user’s search.

Where it was made (location)…. When (ad schedule)…. How (device)… and Who it is on the other side of that device (audiences and demographics).

Adjusting bids against variables like these is mostly an activity that comes into play with manual bidding (see the ‘eligibility table’ on Google’s help page.

Smart Bidding doesn’t like to share the control on this one….

…and fair enough. The range of signals it can take into account, its speed in calculating their patterns and interplay, and the real-time application of those calculations at the auction level are all areas where the algorithm has a built-in advantage.

And yet…

Since the algorithms often miss the mark, or tilt towards higher spend (just see the ‘mixed’ quality of Google Ads’ automated Recommendations for good evidence of this…) manual is still often the right choice.

but only if you do it better.

And when it comes to making bid adjustments, there are a few things to look out for.

Here are three of them:

Tip #1 - Compound Bid Adjustments

First, bid adjustments multiply… so remember to watch out for ‘compound bid adjustments’.

For example, if you bid up by 10% for mobile traffic; another +15% on Tuesdays, and a further +25% based for Bristol as the location… 

When someone triggers your ad from a mobile, in Bristol on a Tuesday – you will have a bid adjustment of 58% (not 50%) of the original.

Add in gender, age and audience adjustments – and as you can imagine, you can quickly find yourself bidding far more than you ever intended!

There is a limit to bid adjustment multiplication, but it’s a generous 900%. The lower limit, for compound bid reductions, is -90% of the based bid.

So when making a change,  keep in mind what existing adjustments are in place, and use smaller % changes when there are multiple adjustments affecting the same set of keywords.

For a few other fine-print points about how bid adjustments interact with each other, check Google’s help page about bid adjustments.

Tip #2 - Hidden Engagement Metrics

When you don’t have much conversion data to go on, it’s a good idea to look at the engagement metrics from GA (bounce rate, time on site, pages per session) as signals of traffic quality.

With keywords and ads, and higher-level groupings that’s easy enough. You can import your GA data and include it as columns in your Google Ads reports…

But these columns are not available in the devices, ad schedule, or location reports.

Luckily, you can find the engagement metrics against all these variables, in Google Analytics.

For devices, the simplest way to them is to go through the Google Ads reports > campaigns – add device category as a secondary dimension.

If you then order by campaign, you will see the breakdown of all the engagement metrics for each campaign, for each device category.

You can do a similar thing with day of week as the secondary dimension.

With locations, you’ll need to go the other way round. Audience > geo > location. Add the campaign as a secondary dimension and finally (for much clearer analysis) apply a filter to include one campaign at a time. Voila, the engagement metrics for that campaign, by location.

(Watch the video above for a walk through all three reports).

Tip #3 - Anchoring Bids

Finally – take care not to allow bid adjustments to become a substitute for appropriate base bids.

If you end up with varying degrees of positive bid adjs – like this…

i.e. all traffic to a given campaign or ad group being shifted in the same direction, using bid adjustments – then you need to recalibrate your base bids.

Base bids (keyword or ad group-level bids) should be your anchor, while the bid adjustments should be just that… fine-tuning on a bid that’s generally in the right zone in its own right.

When bid adjustments are overused, you can end up in a tangled web – with too many upwards and downward influences in too many different places … weakening each lever and making it hard to effect the changes you need to.

Act at the level of the base bid first, to keep bids more manageable.

These are three of the five optimisation tips that round off Lesson 7, Unit 2 (Time, Place & Device) from Google Ads Level Up – the paid search optimisation course.

For a lot more like this – and a tonne of other benefits, resources and support to help you level up your paid search – join…

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