Google Ads – Default Settings to Change

Which statement is true?

a) Google Ads is a super-efficient money-making machine.

b) Google Ads is a super-efficient money-wasting machine.

The answer is… both – but there’s a lot you can do to make sure you experience more  a) than b). 

Google’s dreaded default settings can set you on the path to an untargeted spending spree. 

And what do we say to untargeted ad spend...?

Not today.

So here are some simple boxes to tick / checkboxes to uncheck, to avoid that unnecessary waste.


 1) Search with Content Network

Whether you’re using Google Ads Editor or the usual interface, by default new search campaigns are opted in to the content network as well as search.

This allows budget not spent on search ad clicks to go towards advertising on Google’s display network (GDN), where your ads will appear on various sites (and apps)… of varying quality. 

This won’t serve you well, and you’ll almost always find that this GDN traffic does a grand job of wasting your budget.

Opt out by unchecking the box (web interface) or changing the dropdown to ‘disabled’ (Google Ads Editor).

 2) Search Partners

As with the content network, this default setting favours quantity over quality. 

By default, your ads are opted in to show not only in Google’s search results, but also on Google’s ‘Search Partner’ sites: either in their search results, or on directory pages relevant to your keywords.

This is good news if you want to maximise traffic; it can extend your reach enormously. However, it’s usually not good if you want to optimise your cost per conversion.

Traffic from Search Partners is often cheaper, but converts at a lower rate, and the metrics generally don’t balance out in your favour.

Check its impact from the campaign view by segmenting by network.


Turn off Search Partners from Campaign Settings > Networks….

 3)  Smart bidding

This one is less clear cut.

I don’t share the view still common among experienced PPC professionals, that Smart Bidding is a waste of time and money.

While it removes a huge element of control, Smart Bidding has the advantage of being able to adjust bids (according to your designated aims) every time your ad enters an auction, based on reams of historical data, and more signals than we have at our disposal (let alone the ability to assess) when using manual bidding.

But how do they perform in practice?

And here’s the problem… I’ve seen some good exceptions, but more often than not they still fail to outperform manual bidding. 

Like so many other automations in Google Ads, Smart Bidding often leads to over-aggressive spend in areas that a sensible human actor would avoid.

Google is pushing bid automation hard, and you have to make an increasingly active effort to turn it off when first creating a campaign…

Smart Bidding will become the first choice in the foreseeable future – but for now – start with manual bidding.

 4)  Location settings

This is a slightly hidden option, and a good one to know. 

In nine out of ten accounts I audit, I find spend being wasted by this default setting.

If you set your campaign to show ads in the UK, you could be forgiven for expecting Google to show your ads only in the UK….

But it doesn’t. 

Check your user location reports and you will usually see that ads are actually racking up impressions and clicks (and spend!) from other countries too.

By default, when you target a location, you are opting to show ads to people who either are in, or ‘show interest in’ that location.

Usually, you really do want to target people who are actually in the locations you’re targeting (sounds reasonable!). 

To achieve that, you just have to dig up the advanced location options, and opt to show ads to users ‘in or regularly in your targeted locations’.

No more clicks or spend outside the target location/s.

 5)  Auto-Created Ads

Unless you specify otherwise, Google will automatically create new ads to run alongside your own efforts.

These aren’t always bad, but for all its growing ability, Artificial Intelligence doesn’t yet write as well as you do… and the performance of these auto-generated ads tends to reflect this.

Auto-generated ads also feel like a particularly intrusive piece of tinkering in your campaign, and you’ll probably want to turn them off.

To do so, at the top level, hit ‘settings’ and the ‘account setting’ tab, then change Ad suggestions off:

 6)  Dynamic Extensions

A little while ago I had a client ask why their ads said they were established in 1975 (they were established in 2003)!

The answer was dynamic callout extensions

Along the same lines as auto-generated ads, Google will also apply automatically-generated ad extensions… And the example above illustrates why these often aren’t a good idea.

The option to disable these is now quite well hidden… 

At the campaign level, select ads and extensions > automated extensions tab > three dot menu icon > advanced options… and relax. 

Notice again the ‘not recommended’ wording around the choice to retain control… I do wish Google would give it a rest sometimes. 

…and I still have no idea how Google decided they were established in 1975!

 7)  Automated targeting on the GDN

When setting your targeting for a content campaign, Google will ask to what extent you would like it to extend your reach to find new customers, hitting users similar to those caught in your manually-selected targeting options.

The default is ‘conservative targeting’.

All sounds entirely reasonable, but again, the results in practice don’t tell the same story.

This also takes a bit of digging to remove once you’re up and running.

From ‘Audiences’, edit and select ‘Edit ad group targeting’

And then turn down the Targeting expansion to zero.

 8)  Broad Match

If you’re reading this (which you are) it’s unlikely that this is new to you… so just quickly – don’t enter keywords without specifying their match type. 

You will want to change keywords from the default ‘broad match’.

Broad match treats your keyword more as a rough guide than a specific instruction…and it isn’t pretty.

So be sure to enter new keywords with more refined match types, in one of the following formats:

  • +modified +broad +match
  • “phrase match”


  • [exact match]

… and read about how each one operates here.

 9)  Auto-recommendations

These aren’t exactly default settings, but they are quite strongly ‘encouraged’ by Google, and the uninitiated may not treat them with the scrutiny they need…

You will be advised to take actions such as:

  • Moving to an automated bidding strategy (not recommended for the reasons above..)
  • Adding new keywords (often not particularly relevant)
  • Raising budgets (just because you can, not because you should)

Google also ‘gamifies’ the process by giving you a score which increases as you adopt these recommendations, which (while some are helpful) again tend to favour quantity and spend over quality and precision. 

Treat them with caution.


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