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How To Build Scalable PPC Tools

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As a PPC analyst, I have become more and more focused on tool development and reporting projects. However, as we continue to sign more clients, hire more Account Managers, and deal with more complex, large accounts, it becomes increasingly important to think about scalability with these projects.

Now you might be wondering, what exactly does “scalability” mean? In this case, our definition is “able to be used across a range of capabilities”. Specifically, the same tool should be able to be used for a small biz account, and an extra-large account with thousands of keywords.

So, What is an “Unscalable” Tool?

Many of our existing tools and templates rely on Google Sheets and a Supermetrics connector. While it’s great in theory, there are some problems.

  • Data refreshing – data accuracy and completeness are the lifeblood of any data analysis tool. Whatever method you choose to import data, you must be able to rely on it to function consistently. Manually downloading data from ad interfaces is an option, but is tedious and time-consuming, and can lead to many human errors.
  • Data size – Google sheets and Excel have limits on how much data they can hold and manipulate with ease. Referring to our earlier definition of scalability, we want to be able to use a tool with any sized account.
  • Time-Consuming – How much time the user has to actually spend using the tool is an important factor. The entire point of creating a tool is to either save time or provide an insight that would be difficult or impossible to find manually. For example, if we have a tool that runs SQRs (search query reports) but requires 10 steps, a manual data refresh, and some error troubleshooting from the user every time, that’s not scalable long term. Time is our most valuable resource, let’s use it wisely!
  • Robustness – A tool that is constantly breaking (either due to human error or computer error), makes an analyst sad. The very nature of Google Sheets & Excel makes it very easy for the end-user to make changes (unintentionally or not) and cause things to break. 

Project Planning for Success

To build scalable solutions, we must start at the very beginning: the planning stage.

We won’t get too in-depth in this post, if you want more general planning tips you can see my post on the topic here

Some things to think about during the planning stage that will impact scalability include the following:

How is the PPC tool going to be built?

Your go-to may be Excel or Sheets, but with the limitations discussed previously, now might be the time to start learning (or implementing) some code! Whether it’s Python, R, javascript, or some other code of your choice, it might just be a stable solution.

Another often-overlooked, yet very important aspect is how the tool works with multiple users. Our Google Sheets tools are copied for each instance that the user needs it (for each client, for example). The problem here is that we end up with old outdated versions floating out there in the ether that is Google Drive. Account Managers end up using broken copies inadvertently. When a tool is coded and hosted online, updates are pushed live and there’s no chance of a user having an old copy.

The build method also handles the problem of data size nicely, as a few lines of code can churn through thousands of rows of data quicker than Excel can.

Investing in Data Storage Solutions

One of the biggest challenges we have faced is data storage. BigQuery is an inexpensive solution, and many businesses also use services like Funnel to pipe in and store data.

It may help to think about a tool in different functional pieces: data pipeline, storage, manipulation, and visualization. This way you can tackle each piece separately and the project becomes more manageable.

Scaling an Existing Tool or Report

Sometimes you don’t have the time or resources to completely rebuild a tool or report and need something functional. In that case, there are likely some improvements to be made!

Step 1: Locate any slow-downs or breakages

Do things freeze up due to complex formulas or large data sets? For me personally, my workflow generally entails writing some long, complicated formulas to get the data to do what I want, and then a bit later I’ll go in and streamline things where possible. 

Step 2: Reduce Opportunity for Human Errors

I have found that the more direct interaction the user has with a report that’s based in Google Sheets, the more room there is for human error. Accidentally deleting formulas, overwriting cells, and formatting changes are all very common.

A short term fix can be as simple as locking cells for editing (or showing a warning). Swapping out complicated formulas for more simple ones is also a great idea here.

Step 3: Look into optimizing one of the following: data import, storage, manipulation, visualization

Pick one step of the process where there is room for improvement. As an example, we’ve recently been building a new Data Studio report for a client. They are running on multiple platforms and accounts, and need to segment by different product lines. Rather than pulling the raw data into Data Studio and doing any custom metrics and segmentation there, we decided to do it in the data file before pulling into Data Studio. This allows Data Studio to function as the visualization, which is where it shines, without adding extra frustration of getting the data to be structured in a usable way.

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Advanced Google Ads Techniques To Master In 2024

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Advanced Google Ads Techniques To Master In 2024

We’re nearly halfway through 2024, and already we PPC heroes have experienced a plethora of changes to get our heads around. How can we cut through the noise and focus on the specific tactics that will make an impact for the better?

Today we’ll take a look at a few advanced Google Ads techniques tips and tricks to master in 2024 – everything from making account management easier to tailoring your messaging at scale, and making your campaigns as effective and efficient as possible.

1. Auto-apply (some) recommendations

Fighting those pesky ‘optimization score’ reminders can be time-consuming – especially when they’re not always applicable. With targets to hit and maintain for Google’s partnership and support, it’s important to keep our optimization scores high at 80% or above.

Google’s optimization recommendations are split into the following categories:

  • Ads and assets
  • Automated campaigns
  • Bidding and budgets
  • Keywords and targeting
  • Repairs
  • Measurement

Each of these will have a unique score that will affect your overall optimization total for each of your accounts. Repairs are usually critical fixes, while minor keyword tweaks may come further down the priority list. (You can dismiss recommendations if they’re irrelevant, but I recommend reading the details behind each of them before rejecting them.)

To save time on manual campaign management, you can ask Google to auto-apply some of these tweaks for you – with a thorough ‘auto-applied recommendations’  history as well as optional email alerts. 

I recommend adding these four as must-have auto-optimizations:

  1. Removing redundant keywords (keywords that have a close match within the same ad group and bidding strategy that performs better)
  2. Removing non-serving keywords (keywords with no impressions over a set period)*
  3. Updating keywords bids to meet ‘top of page’ bids etc. (You can still set an upper limit on this)
  4. Use optimized ad rotation (to show the best-performing ads more often instead of all ads within the same ad group equally, despite performance)

*As of June 2024, Google will automatically pause low-activity keywords: “Positive keywords in search ads campaigns are considered low-activity if they were created over 13 months ago and have zero impressions over the past 13 months.”

To opt-in to certain auto-applied recommendations:

  1. In your Google Ads account, click the Campaigns icon 
  2. Click Recommendations.

At the upper right-hand corner, click Auto-apply, and select which recommendations to auto-apply.

2. Drive personalization through audiences

One way to drive personalization via search ads is by leveraging Google’s audiences. While marketers of yesteryear used to rely on keywords and geotargeting, today Google has a multitude of interested audiences to exploit across search, performance max, display, video, and demand gen campaigns. Don’t forget, audiences can be applied with both the observation setting and the targeting setting. Consider adding audiences to the observation setting first, adjusting to targeting once you have sufficient data.

By applying the following audience types to your campaigns and ad groups, you can double down on efforts to reach your target audiences through search.

Custom audiences

Create your own custom audience based on signals such as interests, behaviors, website viewing history (by URL), and app history. Think competitor brands or products, industry-related websites and apps, and recent relevant Google searches.

You could use custom audiences to personalize your ad copy on campaigns where you’re targeting customers of your competitors. For example, by encouraging them to ‘switch’ to your brand, product, or service, rather than treating them like a first-time purchaser. You could focus on the benefits of your product or service over the one they currently have, rather than focusing your ad copy on educating the audience from scratch.

In-market audiences

In-market audiences are a must-have in 2024. Curated by Google, these audiences actively research a specific product or service and are actively considering their options ahead of purchasing. 

While there isn’t a master list of in-market audiences (because many of these are hidden!), head to the Audiences tab on your current Google Ads campaigns. Click “Edit Audience Segments”, then the Browse tab, and navigate to In-Market Audiences. You can look at all available groupings by industry, and add the most relevant ones to your campaigns. You can also use this function to type in keywords under the Search tab, and type in relevant keywords to find relevant in-market audience suggestions to apply.

Knowing these audiences are already convinced of the benefits of the general product or service you’re advertising, you can use your ad copy to highlight the USPs of your brand.

RLSAs

While the use of RLSAs (remarketing lists for search ads) has dropped since their arrival in 2013, they still have a place in an effective PPC strategy in 2024. By creating an RLSA, you can personalize your ad copy at scale.

The use of RLSAs is particularly applicable for brands with lengthier sales cycles, or longer customer consideration and comparison stages. Your brand could be 1 of 5 that a consumer is considering buying a hot tub from – it’s uncommon that a hot tub is an impulse purchase decision. A user may use Google to search multiple times for generic hot tub terms, and may whittle this down to certain brands based on their needs. Once a user who is actively looking for a hot tub has visited your website without converting, upon their next Google search, your ad may contain a coupon code, a complimentary gift item, or other differentiating ad copy to encourage them to purchase through your website.

It’s important with RLSAs to ensure that you have separate ad groups or campaigns. Also to separate RLSA audiences from other custom, in-market or demographic-based audiences.

Remember to test all new audiences by adding them as ‘observation’ audiences, before switching to the ‘targeting’ setting.

3. Harness your data

One of the more critical elements of a top-performing PPC campaign is data. You can have the best keywords, ad copy, and landing page in the world, but you need the right data to meet your goals.

A big data piece for 2024 is the perfection of conversion tracking, conversion events, and key events. With enhanced conversions also forcing their way to the fore, Google is no longer letting a lack of data confuse the attribution story.

At one time it was best practice to aim for a single conversion goal across all campaigns. In 2024, it’s important to measure a mixture of lighter conversion events too. For example, measuring PDF downloads and highly engaged video views on the path to a lead form submission. Or tracking customers who have abandoned their carts. Not only do these signals give you a clearer picture of the path to conversion, but these lighter goals can better guide Google’s machine learning and automated bidding strategy efforts.

Not only is conversion tracking crucial to success, but your conversion settings are key. Review the conversions list on your Google Ads account and check each goal for whether it’s a primary or secondary, or account default conversion setting. Having multiple account-default primary conversion goals will make it harder for Google to auto-optimize conversion-based bidding strategies. Choose one or two must-haves to keep as your primary conversion goal, and set the rest to secondary conversion goals.

4. Stop working on your Google Ads in isolation

One of the most valuable traits of a top-performing PPC manager is their knowledge of where PPC fits within the marketing funnel and wider marketing mix. Traditionally, PPC tactics have been assigned a bottom-of-funnel or lower-funnel position in the marketing mix. 

In 2024, we need to adapt our thinking. Google Ads is no longer a BOF-only strategy. In fact, Google Ads can generate upper-funnel, mid-funnel, and lower-funnel results with the right strategy, campaign type, and goal tracking in place. 

Not only that but Google Ads can support a multitude of cross-channel activities. You can use Google Ads to:

  • Drive brand awareness and consideration on YouTube and other video partner platforms
  • Capture brand demand generated from activity on social platforms such as Meta, TikTok, or Snapchat
  • Similarly, capture brand demand generated from offline or traditional channels such as TV advertising, billboards, or print media
  • Remarket to website traffic (from all sources) to generate conversions
  • Boost brand loyalty, cross-sell, and up-sell opportunities using current customer data

This is another reason why data-driven attribution is a must-have in 2024. Today, Google Ads can influence multiple customer touchpoints. Last-click attribution is no longer an effective, representative, or scientific way of measuring the success of Google Ads activity.

5. Perfect your exclusions

For peak efficiency, exclusions are a must-have throughout your account. Particularly with the increased push for automated campaigns and campaign management that we’re experiencing. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re only running search or performance max activity. Exclusions are almost always a part of an efficient campaign structure. The exclusions on your account might include negative keywords, specific audience exclusions (such as remarketing and already-converted audiences), brand exclusions, geotargeting exclusions, or placement exclusions.

Common negative keywords to consider may include:

  • Free
  • Jobs
  • Download
  • Cheap
  • How to
  • YouTube
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Sample
  • Guide
  • Logo
  • Resource
  • DIY

Without exclusions, you may find your ads are appearing to the wrong audiences, next to questionable or harmful content, or even that your ads are being triggered by irrelevant search terms entirely. 

Summary 

In 2024, there is a lot of noise in PPC advertising. By getting to grips with the above fundamentals of a healthy Google Ads account – targeting, personalization, data, simpler campaign management techniques, and adding relevant exclusions – you’ll be able to successfully navigate the complexities of managing your accounts at an advanced level.



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Advertisers: How Netflix is Coming for You

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Someone watching Netflix on a TV on their wall

If you haven’t yet looked at Netflix as an outlet for your advertising budgets, you soon will.

Even if you haven’t, that the video-on-demand streaming platform is venturing ever deeper into ads as a revenue source won’t be news. If you have an individual or household subscription, you may well have been alerted to a change in your service, with Netflix switching you from your current, ad-free plan to a cheaper tier that will include commercial breaks.

As a marketer, that should have screamed opportunity, or at the very least it will have got you asking questions.

Netflix answered many of those at Upfront 2024, the company’s second presentation to current and potential advertisers. The event left us with little doubt about how far they’ve come and how much further they intend to go.

Advertisers How Netflix is Coming for You

End-to-End is the New Black for Netflix

The company already creates the content and owns the infrastructure on which it appears. Next up is the ad tech and sales side. This will allow it to provide a bespoke offering to those in our business, including ad commissioning, formatting, and targeting, all under one roof.

Netflix is already a player. In the next year (or two, or less) they intend to become a serious one.

Netflix’s Numbers are Impressive

A reported 40 million subscribers are now on the ad-supported plan. In those markets where the tier has already been rolled out, 40% of new sign-ups are plumping for the ad-added option.

Apparently over 50% of advertised-to viewers watch more than 20 hours per month. That’s a handy little figure for those holding the purse strings to have in their pockets.

Netflix Going after Google?

Perhaps not yet. Or at least not directly

The media giant has committed to competing for a greater share of your brand’s marketing budget. At this, however, stage its sights seem set on legacy media, rather than the Mountain View behemoth.

The supplementary Upfront material mentions “linear TV” several times, pointing out how favorably its own audiences compare.

Netflix viewers are supposedly twice as likely to respond to advertising, have a higher attention span, and have a higher household income than those taking their TV via the traditional format.

And in the near-to-medium term Google is going to be more of an ally than an opponent. This was their announcement:

What that means is from this summer you will be able to purchase Netflix inventory via Google’s Display & Video 360 programmatic platforms. Other buying options will include The Trade Desk and Magnite, all of whom join Netflix’s primary programmatic partner, Microsoft.

Bigger Things on the Horizon

Less loudly trumpeted by Google is that Netflix does not intend to outsource its advertising tech for long. It will be launching its own platform by the end of next year.

“Bringing our ad tech in-house will allow us to power the ads plan with the same level of excellence that’s made Netflix the leader in streaming technology today,” said Amy Reinhard, Netflix President of Advertising.

“We’re being incredibly strategic about how we present ads,” she continued, “because we want our members to have a phenomenal experience. We conduct deep consumer research to make sure we stay ahead of the competition, bringing opportunities that are better for members and better for brands.”

Netflix might not be part of your plans, but you’re very much part of their theirs.



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Running Performance Max Against Brand is a Waste

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Brand Performance Max

If you’re like the majority of Google Ads advertisers, you’re running Performance Max campaigns. You’re also likely wasting a ton of money on it. Google makes it challenging to exclude branded keywords from Performance Max, while claiming the brand terms that do show up in these campaigns are incremental.

At our PPC agency, Taikun, where we manage tens of millions in Google ad spend per year, we have not seen this proposition supported by evidence. In fact we have found time and again that keeping branded terms live in PMax gives Google a license to waste your money.

Is Brand Search Incremental?

Before diving into the specifics of how including brand in PMax wastes money, it is important to discuss whether brand spend ever drives incremental revenue

Geo lift tests we have conducted on brand spend, within both shopping and search, with a number of brands, have found in each case that ad spend was found to be completely non incremental. That is, it generated no additional (net) revenue. This is supported by other companies which have seen similar results

Despite the lack of incrementality, there are situations where spending on brand makes sense. For example: To deter competitors or retail partners from bidding on your terms; product or service segmentation that meaningfully benefits from better control of landing pages; and when brand terms overlap with nonbrand searches.

Whether any of the above apply or not, it’s important to remember that when running brand there’s no guarantee it will drive incremental sales. If you have the volume to run a geo lift test, it’s recommended.

Understanding how the sausage is made

Regardless of whether running brand on search or shopping is incremental for your business, there’s one way to ensure it will negatively impact your incremental volume: running it in PMax. 

PMax gives you access to Google’s entire ad inventory. It promises to use machine learning to maximize your overall performance across Google’s entire ecosystem. This sounds great in theory. In reality, PMax is a way for Google to sell remnant inventory that you would not intentionally target because of its low quality. That poor performance can be hidden with spend against extremely high intent and high performing brand volume.

For example, if 10% of your spend goes to brand at a 20x ROAS and the other 90% goes to everything else at a 0.5x ROAS, your blend is a 2.45x. Performance looks good on the blend, but in reality you’re incinerating 90% of your ad budget.

This is not a theoretical example. We have seen this play out with varying degrees of severity in every PMax campaign we’ve looked at where brand was combined with nonbrand:

1716402362 272 Running Performance Max Against Brand is a Waste

You need to force PMax to work for its conversions. To do that you need to strip brand out completely.

How to Tell if Brand PMax is Wasting Your Budget

You can take a look at your own PMax campaigns and quickly determine if you’re wasting money on brand. If your PMax is performing at a better rate than other nonbrand volume in your account or your meta prospecting, you’re probably running a lot of brand. Likewise, if your campaign is consistently performing above the target, it is a dead giveaway there’s brand in there. Finally, if CPCs are lower than the rest of the account, brand is a likely culprit. 

You can also do a rough calculation of how much brand is generating witin the campaign. The insights report of PMax provides data on the search categories that are driving conversions. Add up all the conversions that are credited to search categories with brand terms and compare that to the overall campaign conversion volume. This will give you a rough idea of the percentage of conversions in the campaign being driven by brand. 

If it’s more than 30% of the overall conversions, you’re absolutely burning money and you should pull it out of PMax. 

Structuring Brand Outside PMax

Removing brand from PMax is annoying but not overly onerous. The first step is requesting Google adds a negative keyword list to your PMax campaign. Here is the form that includes a template to send in the name of your brand terms or dedicated PMax negative keyword list. This allows you to add negative keywords to your PMax campaign.

Note: The brand exclusions structure doesn’t do as good a job of excluding brand terms as a negative keyword list. 

Next, you need to set up a brand search campaign on either target impression share, or a manual bidding strategy. Smart bidding is a bad fit for brand search for the same reason we exclude it from PMax: it allows Google to waste money.

The goal with your brand search campaign should be to maximize the delta in real dollars between your spend and revenue generated.

If you’re managing an ecommerce brand, there’s one more campaign that needs to be set up (if you don’t already have one): A branded shopping campaign. A standard shopping campaign with a ROAS target that’s double your nonbrand target will ensure you’re capturing branded shopping inventory as well.

Adjust this target as necessary. Almost no nonbrand will make it into this campaign because PMax takes precedence over standard shopping.

With brand out of PMax, you’ll see volume on that campaign decline substantially as well as performance. Your overall account performance should increase substantially as well.

A Final Note on Google

The advertiser relationship with Google is currently broken. The Google antitrust trial has exposed what many of us in the PPC community have known for years: Google is squeezing advertisers to juice their own profits.

Whenever Google makes changes or encourages advertisers to do things, remember the relationship and ask yourself: “How would this benefit Google?”



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