Stop Wasting Money With Adwords Express

If you are currently using or considering using Google Adwords Express you must read this.

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What is Google Adwords Express?  This is Google's answer to how to get more small businesses to start using Google Adwords and running pay per click ads for their business.  Just like Google Adwords, your ads are eligible to show on, Google Maps and relevant websites on the display network. Over the years, the Google Adwords platform has continued to get more complex which can make it intimidating for small businesses.  Ever since the death of the Yellow Pages, companies have come and go trying to fill the gap that was left behind by attempting to make it simple for a small business to manage their own marketing. 

The problem is on a local pay per click campaign a $500 monthly budget can go a long way, but a typical management fee on that budget should be anywhere from $750-1,500 with an agency or pay per click manager that knows what they are doing.  Many small businesses have a hard time wrapping their head around the management fee being greater than the advertising dollars.  Meanwhile, 10 years ago that same business would spend $5k-$20k/year on a Yellow Pages ad where you had zero control over the results.  Dozens of software companies have tried to solve this problem with little to no success.

Here comes Adwords Express to the rescue right?  According to Adwords, "Adwords express can be setup in just 15 minutes."  Here's all you need to do:

"You’ll set up a budget, and based on the type of business you have, we’ll come up with a list of search phrases that will trigger your ad and potential related sites where your ad can appear. We’ll continue to maintain and update your search phrases over time. Minimal ongoing management is needed, and you pay only for clicks that your ad actually receives."

Now you do have a little bit of control with the keywords.  Google will suggest keywords and you have the choice to keep them so it's not 100% automated.  

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So why exactly shouldn't you use Google Adwords Express?

There are two major issues that completely ruin their intentions.  

1. All keywords added are broad match.  As most PPC Managers know, this is a bad idea.  Less than 5% of the keywords we manage out of hundreds of thousands are broad match.  This is likely to cause the majority of your traffic to come in on poor quality search queries that are irrelevant to your business.  On top of that there is no control over the queries because you cannot see them or add negative keywords.

2. There is virtually no conversion tracking.  So Google is "optimizing" to your goal, but if your goal has anything to do with website conversions instead of calls, they have no insight and neither do you.  They recently added a method for linking a Google Analytics account and importing goals, but if you are using Adwords Express because of its simplicity you likely do not understand how to setup Google analytics so this addition is practically pointless.

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What happens when you use Adwords Express?  Typically we see one of two responses.  Either you have no clue how it is working and you just continue to run it and spend money, or you do not believe it is working so you turn it off and are left with a sour taste in your mouth about running Google Adwords for your business.  When we know how well Adwords can work for many small businesses neither of these responses are good.  

What should you do if you are launching your own Adwords account yourself?

Contact us and we will help you get started.  We have great packages for small businesses.  If you still want to manage it yourself, no problem.  We will point you to a few resources that if you spend just a couple hours learning you will be able to avoid a bad experience with Google Adwords Express.

Google Adwords Repeat Rate: Are You Under Reporting Conversions?

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What is a repeat rate and what does it mean to your business?

If you go into tools under measurement and go to the conversions sections of Google Adwords (new interface), you should see at least one conversion type (if you have this setup) and a bunch of columns.  One of those columns will say repeat rate.  Depending on how you setup your conversion pixel this can cause you to either over report conversions or under report conversions.

Let's step back a bit.  When you are in the process of creating a conversion in Google Adwords, the first step you will see will be the following:

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You have two options here, every or one.  According to Google "if someone clicks your ad, then makes 3 purchases, AdWords will count 3 conversions."  If you choose one, according to Google "adwords counts only one conversion per ad click."  At Relay PM, when we setup Google Adwords conversion tracking for a client we assess the type of conversion we are tracking for each client.  If we are tracking purchases we will choose every and if we are tracking leads we will chose one.  The reason is that if someone makes multiple purchases on a website, each purchase has revenue attributed to it and thus should be counted as a conversion because each additional conversion does add more value.  With lead generation, if one person submits multiple leads there typically is no additional value to counting every time the lead is submitted.

Depending on what your conversion window is set to (30, 60, 90...) the repeat rate is based on that window.  If someone clicks on an ad and makes more than one purchase at any point during that conversion window, it is counted as a repeat.  Same goes for submitting leads.  When you are looking at the repeat column in the conversion section in Google Adwords you will see the average number of conversions submitted per user based on whatever date range you are currently viewing.  Keep in mind no matter which option you choose, every or one, the repeat column still shows the average number of conversions per click or interaction, but they will only be included in the Adwords conversion columns if you chose every.

Now, there are potential issues to using the every conversion option that we have seen.  Users can bookmark a purchase or order confirmation page and visit that page again because the page might load too slow and the user tries to reload the page, or the user hits the back button to visit the page twice.  We have also seen unknown technical issues causing the conversion pixel to fire multiple times for the same user.  Any one of these options are fairly common.  Fortunately there is a way around this.  You can add an order ID to your conversion tracking pixel.  If Google Adwords sees two conversions submitted with the same order ID they will only count one.

Depending on if you are using a conversion pixel from the new Adwords interface or the old Adwords interface you can see the code to implement here:  Order ID's will not be used in any Adwords reporting.  

If you have any questions on this topic please let us know.

Google Says My Bid Is Below First Page Estimate, What Does That Mean?

For the past couple years clients' have been logging into their Google Adwords account and then asking us "why are our keywords below first page bid?"  While this estimate has been around since 2008 or 2009, at some point it was added to the status column and has resulted in it being much more visible.

Typically my response has been: "Ignore That.  It doesn't really mean anything."  Although I sort of believe that to be true, I thought I would take some time to put together a slightly more satisfying response.

Here is what Google says about the first page bid estimate:

This estimate approximates what cost-per-click (CPC) bid is needed for your ad to show anywhere on the first page of search results when a search query exactly matches your keyword. Your ad can still appear if your bid does not meet this estimate, but it's less likely to appear on the first page of search results.

This is actually a quite perfect response.  Let me elaborate on a couple of the most important pieces of this response.

when a search query exactly matches your keyword

Let's say you are bidding $1.50 on "red shoes," but the first page bid estimate is $2.50. You are much more likely to show on the first page of results when the user's query is "where to buy red shoes", so if you want to increase your chances of showing for "red shoes" you should increase your bid.

Your ad can still appear... but it's less likely on the first page

After digging into this one further, I was proven incorrect on something I've been telling clients for the past couple years.  For those who have been doing this for 10+ years like me, you will remember it was not uncommon to see an average position of 32, 47, or even higher in the past.  Google got rid of that years ago so now at first glance all pages appear to have the exact same ads as page 1.  Upon further review and test searches, I discovered that every now and then you'll see a few ads after page 1 that have not shown on page 1 at all. 

So, as we're managing your account, how do we use this information?

Depending on the goal, there are a couple of ways we use this.  When we first launch an account or keywords, we often have to repeatedly bring keywords up to the first page bid estimate as Google adjusts the initial quality score.  If we are managing an account and we need more traffic volume, we typically start with doing this as a quick method. We can also use the estimates to our advantage because they give us an indication of which keywords have more volume potential and serve as a quick way to identify "high quality" keywords that we might want more volume from.  While we also consider impression share and average position, first page bid estimates are a simpler value to look at.

The final way, which is very often an indicator of a bigger issue, is low quality score.  If it's a big enough issue within the account, we might look at ways to improve overall quality score so that Google drops the first page bid estimate down and we are eligible for more auctions without increasing our bid.

Below is an example.  This particular keyword as a $15 bid with a $16.90 recommended first page bid, but the keyword has an average position of 2.1.  Seems pretty good right?  If you look to the far right though you see that we are losing 26.16% impression share to ad rank.  That means 26.16% of the time the keyword is searched, we aren't eligible to show.  Increasing the bid to the first page bid estimate increases the ads chances of showing when the particular keyword is searched.


One final point to note.  If the campaign is limited by budget, we almost never increase bids above first page estimates.  What that causes is us to pay more money per click and get less clicks within our budget.

Google Store Visits Explained

Have you heard all the buzz about tracking store visit conversions?  Both Google and Facebook have been making heavy investments into this unique tracking feature with Google releasing it's first iteration back in 2014.  Facebook followed suit and released their own version in 2017, but theirs is still a limited invite only closed beta.  Since 2014 Google has been steadily improving their ability to track in store conversions which has improved not only its accuracy, but expanded the number of brick and mortar locations that qualify to use this feature.

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So what are store visit conversions and how can you utilize them?

If you are advertising your local business on Google Adwords, store visit conversions track users that click your ad to your website, but then later visit your brick and mortar location.  Simple right?  But how does Google get this data?  They use a variety of data points, but most specifically your cell phone's location history.  Before you get too concerned about their tracking, the data cannot be tied to an individual click or person and is anonymous and aggregated.  

Google uses the following to help provide this data:

  • Google Earth and Maps street view data
  • Mapping coordinates and borders of millions of stores nationwide and globally
  • Wi-fi signal strength in each store
  • GPS location signals
  • Google search query data
  • Visitor behavior in the stores
  • A panel over over 1 million opted in users provide their on-ground location history to validate data accuracy and help inform modeling

Here's a short video from Google Small Business explaining this feature:


To go even further Google surveyed more than 5 million people to confirm they actually visited a store if Google tracked them doing so.  This helps Google update their algorithm to ensure 99% accuracy.

There are some definite limitations to the data.  Since the data is anonymous the segmenting available in your Adwords account is limited.  Also, the data is much more accurate as the numbers get larger.  Google will only report a store visit if their near 100% sure it is accurate.

Last year Google made it's latest updates: See more on the latest updates on the Adwords Blog

There are a few exciting ways you can now see the data in your Adwords account. One of them is looking at days to conversion.  This shows how long it took a user from first clicking your ad to visiting your store location.  There's also a distance report and you can see how far a user was from your store when they clicked your ad if it let to an in store visit.

Distance report example:

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How can you access this data for your store location?  Here's what you need to qualify:

  • Have multiple physical store locations in eligible countries. Ask your account representative if store visit conversions are available in your location.
  • Receive thousands of ad clicks and many store visits.
  • Have a Google My Business account linked to your AdWords account.
  • Create each of your store locations in your Google My Business account.
  • Have at least 90% of your linked locations verified in Google My Business
  • Ensure location extensions are active in your account. 
  • Have sufficient store visits data on the backend to attribute to ad click traffic and pass our user privacy thresholds.

See more here at Google

If you qualify for store visit conversion tracking either the conversions will be added automatically from Google and if not you can contact Google and request it be added to your Adwords account.  The data will show in your all conversions column.  This is a great feature to see the value of your advertising when you have a brick and mortar location and we definitely cannot wait until Facebook opens their store visit tracking up to more advertisers.

Google Local Services Ads Explained

Google first launched Home Service Ads in 2015.  They initially launched in San Francisco and only covered plumbers, locksmiths, house cleaners and handymen.  These ad product was bought specifically through Adwords Express.  Fast forward two years and Google updated and rebranded the product as Local Service Ads by Google.  The product now has it's own login and web interface and covers at least 5 verticals and 17 cities across the United States.

Service categories include:

  • Electrician
  • Garage Door Pro
  • HVAC
  • Locksmith
  • Plumber
  • Other*

*Not only is this listed as an option, but there has been expanded services categories seen in select cities.  If you are a local business owner your best bet is the take 60 seconds and try to submit you application.

Current eligible locations:

  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Riverside, CA
  • Sacramento, CA
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • San Jose, CA
  • Miami, FL
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Boston, MA
  • Detroit, MI
  • New York, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Dallas, TX
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, D.C.

Same thing with eligible locations.  This list shows 17, but there's information that Google would be in up to 30 by the end of 2017.  This list is not being updated regularly so you are better off at least checking.

Here's what the ads look like on desktop:

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Here's what they look like on mobile:


In both cases they are above the regular pay per click sponsored ads bought through Google Adwords and above the local pack listings from Google My Business.  They still show both the sponsored results and the local pack, but they are in that order below the Local Service ads.

Here's more information about exactly how the ad product works:

Google local service ads is a full lead management platform where leads are purchased at a cost per lead.  When a customer wants to contact you they call you or send you a message directly through they ad.  These products do not click to your website.  Through the online web interface and also a mobile app you can reply to messages, track bookings, manage leads, bid, set your budget and request reviews from customers.

Two major benefits are that you only pay for leads related to your business and the services you offer and you get backed by the Google Guarantee.  This product is not like Adwords that you can just sign up for.  You need to pass a rigorous background check in order to get the Google Guarantee and they also backup your services up to $2,000.  To learn more about the program and qualifying click here.  

The lead cost is set for each market and service and is a flat fee.  You are not ranked by bidding higher.  Google uses the following factors: proximity to your service location, review score and number of reviews, responsiveness, business hours and if you have had complaints.  Once in the program its vital you stay on top of it.  If you get complains or are slow to respond they will stop showing your ads.  Reviews are also extremely important.  These are pulled from your Google business listing, but what else is great is the interface has a built in tool to request reviews from customers you have gained through the Local Service ads.

We are looking forward to this being rolled out for more services and locations.  It seems like a great product and we have a couple clients that use the program successfully.

To sign up for the program follow this link:


When 50 States Do Not Equal 1 United States

A common trend for those that managed pay-per-click (PPC) accounts before the launch of enhanced campaigns was the presence of 50 individual state campaigns instead of one national campaign. In 2013 along with enhanced campaigns came the ability to add bid modifiers by location. At this time the recommended method to handle location bidding became combining into one campaign and utilizing the bid modifiers. We still come across what you may call the pre-enhanced campaign method here and there and, in almost every case it does occur, it likely results from the client providing services in at least 45 states but not all 50 states.

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One would think that the only difference between running 50 individual state campaigns and running one national campaign would be the time it takes to manage the campaign(s) and combined data for faster optimizations. One advantage to running 50 individual state campaigns would be that you get significantly more granular bidding where the geographic bid modifier from enhanced campaigns could fall a bit short. Yes, you can increase all bids in Florida by 50% or decrease all bids in Indiana by 25%, but what if some keywords performed significantly better in Indiana and some keywords performed significantly worse in Florida? You're stuck raising or lowering all of your keyword bids. Okay, maybe we should just break up all the states into their own campaigns?

Not so fast! What if this caused your cost-per-click (CPC) to rise and your available impressions to fall? Would you still do it? In most cases, probably not. Because we have done this a half-dozen times in the last few years, and we know that running one national campaign while excluding those few states that you don't cover gives you significantly more impressions and a lower CPC. Here’s one example from a mid-sized account that spends about $150k/month on Google Adwords.

This is what you get when you take 47 state campaigns and convert them to one national campaign with a total of three states excluded:

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Pretty impressive? Cost-per-click dropped by half and impressions tripled. The simple explanation for this result is Google's ability to identify location and open up to those that are "unspecified" by state but not by country. After some investigating, we found that less than 1% of the impressions didn’t have an identifiable state. So where did all of the new impressions come from? Our honest answer? We have no idea. Each time we made this change, although the results weren’t astonishing, we have seen consistent, significant increases in impressions and decreases in cost-per-click.

Here's another example of an account we took over last year. Although the cost-per-click didn’t drop dramatically, we saw a significant increase in impression volume:

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Casting A Wide Net in a Small Ocean: How to Boost Conversions by Layering Dynamic Search Ads with RLSA

Remarketing is among the most essential and utilized campaign types in the SEM world. Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) is similar to traditional remarketing, but iinstead of showing ads to past visitors browsing on the Google Display Network (GDN), it shows ads on Google Search, Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP), and YouTube platforms. It also weaves together intent, context, and audience.

RLSA allows for advertisers to tailor their search campaigns, ads, and bids based on which landing websites, pages, or products were visited by your targeted audience. You can then customize your ads to be shown to a past visitor as they are performing follow-up searches on Google or first time searches if they came to your site direct originally or through other channels.

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There are multiple ways to utilize remarketing lists for search ads.  If you layer audiences to existing search campaigns, in this case you would use the setting “bid only,” you can monitor the audience performance against everyone that doesn’t fall under the audience lists you’ve added. If you see that one audience list is performing better than another or against the users that don’t fall into one of your audiences, you can bid them up. The only disadvantage to this setting is that you won’t be able to differentiate your messages.  

Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) campaigns allow Google to match queries to relevant content within your site. Without utilizing RLSA, advertisers complain that the query match is too broad. With RLSA layering you can lure your audience back in, at scale, when they are searching for anything relevant to what you’re offering.  You can also segment product groupings and eliminate the need for constant search query monitoring like your typical dynamic search ad campaign.  When utilizing this technique be sure your audience setting is set to target and bid and not bid only.  Target and bid will only target the audiences you set and segmented product groupings.  Be careful here as this is a common mistake.

You can start by casting a wide net, using just one ad group to target all site content. Layer an audience for all site visitors to get the broadest reach, and the most amount of data for optimizations. By doing this first, you’ll create a “discovery engine” for search queries that returning users use while navigating the path to conversion. Once you have a basic understanding of how to optimize, you can layer your RLSA more concisely to different landing pages, people who’ve spent more time on an important page on your site, abandoned shopping carts, etc.  The possibilities are endless.

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So now that you have solid, concise lists you need to make sure your ads have the best chance at getting seen. Google best practices tells you to “Start by adding a bid modifier of +100%, then adjust up or down to compete for the top ad slots and optimize from there.” But with this ideology, you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket. You’re assuming that just because someone has been to your site, they’re more likely to convert. RLSA works just as good for bidding lower on people that are less likely convert as it does bidding higher on visitors that are more likely to convert.  Don't assume that just because they have been to your website that they're more likely to convert.  That’s why we suggest that you start with no bid modifiers. Layer your audiences and assess the data. This way your decisions are not assumptions, they’re concisely thrown nets. Making this enormous ocean much smaller, and giving you the highest ROI.

For more information and step by step instructions see the Google Adwords help center article here