Why You Always Need a Plan in Google Ads

Generic optimisation can take your Google Ads campaigns to a certain level. After that, real progress requires direction.

It is possible to manage a PPC account successfully without a formalised plan.

It’s possible… but it’s not an optimal approach (it’s not much of an approach at all…) and it certainly won’t serve you well in the long term.

So here are some ways to think about setting a clear vision of what you’re doing, where you’re going and why.

The Big Picture

When you see the letters GTM, what comes to mind?

Google Tag Manager




Some PPCers think of ourselves, ultimately, as implementers.

And there’s a place for implementers… 

But when it comes to growing ourselves as PPC professionals, we have a lot of options for expanding our zone of operation. Growing our understanding of business is one way we can add serious value.

Having some business education, or experience, helps with this of course… but if you don’t have that head start, you can build useful understanding just by getting more curious about your client’s margins, marketing mix, and wider business strategy.

What do you not know now, that you would need to know to really evaluate your PPC activity if you suddenly became the owner of your client’s business?

Find that out, and your value as a consultant will be instantly enhanced.


Working to specific targets massively enhances clarity when it comes to evaluating your PPC activity.

In order to set specific, meaningful targets (rather than just… ‘increase revenue.’) you need to understand each step in the sales funnel.

For example, if your visible goal is ‘contact form submitted’… take a look beyond that first step in the process…

  • Form submitted
  • Genuine contact enquiry
  • Appointment booked
  • Order made
  • Order completed and paid

Each step will have a drop-off rate, which itself will vary to some extent by traffic source and other factors. 

By looking at these drop-off rates, in relation to the end revenue (or better still, profit… or better still, lifetime value…) you start to see how good your £15 CPL really is – and how good it needs to be.

A Roadmap

Targets are gold for understanding performance at a deeper level… but they don’t quite touch the realm of strategy.

So what does a real plan look like?

One way to answer that question is with ‘phasing’… Having a vision of how you want an account to evolve; crystallising the stages, and setting out the actions required to get there.

At the top level, your plan could be:

First we'll aim for the low hanging fruit (bottom of funnel traffic including brand and core terms) and establish a sustainable CPA

Then we'll expand cautiously into upper funnel keywords and targeted display

Then we'll start remarketing campaigns…

Then we’ll replicate successful activity on Bing Ads / add Gmail and YouTube to the remarketing mix...


Each of these components will be broken further into actions that can be laid out in sequence.

(by the way, you’ll look a lot like you know what you’re doing when you present this kind of sequence to a client or prospect – and a Gantt chart is an excellent way to do so. Feel free to use this one as a template. https://bit.ly/ppcgantt)

Reactive Strategy

PPC is 80%(ish) a reactive game – but that doesn’t mean it can’t have its own direction.

How you should react to data signals can always be assessed through the lens of your overarching strategy/priorities, and how you are performing against that strategy.

Here’s one way to visualise that filter.

These two scales – spend vs budget and CPA vs volume focus – can provide a framework to determine what ‘mode’ you should be operating in with your campaigns.


If with all this in mind you still find your campaign management activities stagnating, try allocating a certain % of budget to pure experimentation (for years, Google operated a formal ‘20% Time’ policy, with employees devoting 20% of their time to side projects. Gmail, AdSense and Google News are among the innovations to come out of these ‘20% Projects’). 

Intentional experimentation is a respectable part of any plan for growing an account.


A plan beats no plan, but a rigid plan is a dangerous one.

The market will change… The business and products you’re advertising will change… The competition will change, and so will Google Ads itself. So keep a watchful eye out for ‘Plan Continuation Bias’ (a particular danger among PPC old timers) and stay flexible enough to see when a good plan becomes a bad one – and change course accordingly. 

There is no finish line in PPC optimisation. To remain successful, you will need to move… so don’t forget to look where you’re going.

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