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PPC | PAID SEARCH | Layer on the automation: How to combine automation options for PPC success

Article by Christine Zirnheld

Christine Zirnheld explains that it's important to leverage the right automated features in Google Ads to properly control and steer your campaigns.

To point out the obvious: automation is everywhere in Google Ads.

Google Ads automated features can make a lot of advertisers uncomfortable, and some of them should! As Google continues to push features that take control out of the advertisers’ hands like automated extensions, ad suggestions, Performance Max campaigns, and even auto-applied recommendations, it’s easy to feel like leaning on machine learning is a risky move.

However, there are forms of automation that can make your life a lot easier, but only when used the right way. I recently presented on this topic at SMX Advanced, and in this article, I’m going to run through some of the topics I covered in that talk.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • Preparing your account for automation with proper conversion tracking

  • Selecting the right smart bidding strategy to steer your campaigns

  • Automated targeting tools

  • Guiding automation with the right account structure

  • Examples of automation in action

Guiding automation

Google Ads automation has come a long way, but it can only be as good as the inputs you provide.


A thoughtful and accurate conversion tracking strategy is the number one tool you have to guide automation to achieve your goals.

If you’re not tracking conversions and tracking the right conversions, Google Ads won’t know how to steer the automation. However, determining exactly which conversions to track and which conversions to optimize toward is easier said than done.

Here are some things to consider when thinking through your conversion optimization strategy.

Primary vs. secondary conversions

When setting up a conversion to track in your account, Google Ads will ask you to specify whether your event should be considered a primary conversion action or a secondary conversion.

Primary conversion actions should include any conversions that you want to be included in Google Ads reporting and want to optimize toward.

If there is an event that you want to track, but not necessarily optimize toward, designate it as a secondary conversion. You’ll still be able to see this conversion in the all conv. column in Google Ads, but it won’t impact the conv. column, and your campaigns will not work to achieve this goal.

Let’s walk through an example of how this might look in your account.

If you are a retailer, you would want to include purchases as a primary conversion action because this is an event that results in revenue for your company. However, you may also want to see if your Google Ads campaigns result in shoppers adding items to their cart, regardless of if they purchase.

These “add to cart” events may be nice to know about and there are ways you can use this data, but you wouldn’t want your campaigns to optimize toward “add to cart” conversions that don’t result in a purchase. In this situation, “add to cart” conversions would be designated as secondary conversions.

Assigning value to conversions

In order for any value-based bidding strategy to work, conversion actions will need to be assigned values. This is an easy task for retailers, but other businesses may need to do some math to figure out what the value of individual conversion action is to their business.

Assigning any value is better than nothing to let Google Ads know that some conversions are more valuable than others. However, if you can figure out actual dollar amounts, Google Ads will be able to use that data to better optimize your campaigns.

Campaign-level conversion goals

Google Ads also lets you designate specific conversion Goals at the campaign level. This allows you to tell Google Ads that one campaign should be optimized for content downloads and another should be optimized for demo requests.

Because these conversion actions have vastly different values, telling Google Ads the goal at the campaign level allows you to optimize for different CPA or ROAS goals based on the desired conversion action.

Tracking leads down the funnel

If you are selling a product or service with a longer sales cycle, letting Google Ads know when a simple demo request turns into a sales-qualified lead (or better yet, a customer!) can help guide Google’s automated features to find more qualified leads.

Not all leads are created equal, so importing conversions from your CRM and telling Google Ads to optimize for these qualified leads can help steer the automation to achieve your goals.

Bonus tip: Conversion Value Rules

Google Ads’ new conversion value rules allow you to synthetically adjust the value of a conversion based on the users’ device, location, or audience. Even with campaign types like Performance Max that allow advertisers very little control, this setting can be used at the campaign level to steer the automation toward more valuable conversions for your business.

For example, if you are a B2B advertiser, you have probably found that qualified leads typically come from desktop devices. You could use value rules to increase the value of a desktop conversion. When layered with target ROAS bidding, Google Ads would go after more desktop traffic because it knows that this traffic is more valuable to your business.

Bid strategy

One of the biggest reasons Google Ads automation has improved recently is that smart bidding has improved. With the right inputs in place, Google Ads can use smart bidding to help you generate leads or sales at the right price or return on ad spend (ROAS).

The right bid strategy for you can differ depending on the account, goals, and other factors.

Two of my favorite bid strategies are Target CPA (tCPA) or Target ROAS (tROAS). Both of these options optimize for what really matters to your business, money. Whether it’s hitting your return on ad spend goals or trying to get leads in at the right price, these bid strategies work with your dollars in mind. Maximize Conversion Value and Maximize Conversions bidding are both great options for ramping up a campaign or for campaigns with tighter budgets.

But, for any accounts that aim to scale, tROAS and tCPA are typically the best options. Keep in mind, none of these smart bidding strategies can work without proper conversion tracking in place.

For heavily automated campaign types like Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs), Discovery Campaigns, and Performance Max, advertisers have little control over where their ads are showing and who is seeing them. These campaign types can be successful, but only when paired with the right smart bid strategy to guide them.

Automation in targeting

With the right bid strategy in place, you can feel confident testing some of Google Ads’ broader targeting methods to cast a wider net to uncover new leads. It’s important to pair these targeting strategies with conversion tracking and proper bidding to reach more people at a cost that makes sense for your business.

Keyword targeting & broad match

One form of automation in Google Ads that’s improved vastly over the last couple of years is broad match keyword targeting. I’ve found that with the right guardrails in place, broad match campaigns often outperform their phrase and exact counterparts even in my B2B accounts.

However, broad match can still match with any searches related to your keyword. To keep broad match in check, it’s essential to have the following in place:

  • The right budget.

  • Smart bidding strategy.

  • Ad schedule.

  • Device targeting.

Whenever I’m using broad match, I always keep it in a separate campaign and have a duplicate campaign for phrase and exact match keywords. These match types work vastly differently, so keeping them separate allows me to make sure both campaigns have the budget they need to perform and change the bid strategy if needed.



PPC Consultant London, Google AdWords Consultant London, PPC Specialist London, AdWords Specialist London

Original artcle by Christine Zirnheld on

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