You've been running Google Ads (Adwords) for months, but the performance has been... underwhelming. You've tried variations of ad copy and you're getting clicks, but none of these seem to be turning into conversions...
This article sets out a planned approach to answer all of the above and help you do your own Adwords audit.
So, pick up your hammer and keep reading.
** This guide is intermediate level so some basic concepts are not covered
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What is the HAMMER Method?
The HAMMER method is a sustainable long term Adwords strategy that focuses on improving the overall health and quality of Google Adwords account structure and campaign(s) performance to lower costs and increase conversions.
This is achieved by targeting better quality leads (and audiences) with ads and driving these down the path to conversion.
The HAMMER Method:
A client approached us with a common problem; their Adwords campaigns were getting a lot of ad clicks but not many of these clicks were converting into leads on their website.
Going under the hood, we found a mix of campaign types, mismatched targeting, lack of negative keywords, an inconsistent landing page experience and many more areas that could be improved for better Adwords performance.
Applying the HAMMER Method
1. High-level account housekeeping
Some of this might seem like common sense, but:
2. Analytics - connect and ensure conversion tracking is working
Link your Adwords account with your Google Analytics account to gain additional visibility both ways. Most importantly, get access to your conversion goals from Google Analytics to track them in Adwords, enable target CPA bidding and other useful features.
If you haven't set up conversion goals in Google Analytics yet, this is an important first step!
Tip: Google Tag Assistant is a simple Chrome extension that can help you see what code is/isn't working.
3. Macro account factors
Start by looking for LARGE problems that have the greatest bearing on your campaigns overall.
Or, think 'things that can destroy an entire Adwords campaign performance if they are not right'.
Some examples of Adwords 'macro factors':
4. Micro account factors
Once the big stuff is taken care of, then it's time to dig deeper into the detail and check on the SMALL things and bring it home.
Some examples of Adwords 'micro factors':
It's best to target a smaller group of quality, relevant keywords and do it really well than to target a large group of keywords and do it badly "
Also try custom audiences if you have a large pool of customer data that you can upload directly into Adwords and build similar audiences from.
Look for clues in Google Analytics on affinity or in-market audiences and see how these perform - look for any outliers and even consider custom ad copy / creative if any of them really stand out (e.g. 'Pet Lovers').
Also check out life event audiences such as 'moving house' which may be relevant to your brand or product.
Tip: As well as targeting audiences, also think about excluding them when appropriate.
E.g. People who have just submitted an enquiry form on your website.
5. Evaluate after 14 days
Armed with all of these tips, you've gone and made some changes. Now, it's best to wait at least 7-14 days to see the results of any changes to your campaigns (or even a little longer if you can afford the time).
Additionally - it might be tempting to keep making bulk changes. But once you've hit a good baseline, it's best to keep changes to one at a time so you can objectively see the results and effect without overlap and cross-contamination of your results.
6. Repeat steps 3 - 5 (also Report)
Keep working through steps 3 - 5 and as above, limit changes to one, or a few, at a time.
Finally the all-important bit comes... Report on your amazing results!
This article was originally titled '10X your Adwords CTR...' but we decided that was a little too click-batey...
As for the results we achieved with the HAMMER method... it was actually closer to an 11.5X improvement for one client, so 10X is still being conservative :)
Lead quality also improved, reducing Adwords spend, increasing conversion rate by 58% on lead forms and overall, improving Google Adwords campaign ROI for the client.
But "clicks were down!" we hear some of you say. And yes, clicks did reduce - but this was a good thing.
In Adwords (as with most PPC), clicks are what you pay for, so you want them to count.
Prior to the Adwords performance improvements we made, many of these clicks weren't converting into leads or enquiries and the client was simply blowing budget on vanity metrics that seemed impressive.
After the campaigns were optimised with the HAMMER method, this gave the client a solid base to work from. They could now either expand the existing campaigns, add new campaigns or increase budget with the extra available headroom they now had.
Or, they could sit back and enjoy the financial savings and spend less, of course... :)
The HAMMER method creates a custom, scalable solution that maximises the value of clicks to ensure that budget isn't wasted now or moving forward.
Final Thoughts and Tips
It might seem daunting at first, but if you take the time, there are almost always better ways to improve Google Adwords performance than spending more money or adding more keywords.
Take care dealing with Google support calls or suggestions from within the Adwords interface. Whilst these may seem helpful, Google is still a money-making business. The easiest 'solution' will often be to increase budget.
Similarly, the list of keywords you could potentially add is almost endless. But this isn't Pokemon and you don't need to add them all.
Keywords with higher search volume might seem better at face value, but ultimately you should focus on the keywords that are most relevant and specific to your business.
Have any of your own tips to add, or feedback on how some of these techniques worked for you? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.
Still stuck? Get a Professional Adwords Audit
Still want to run some things past a certified Adwords professional? We're happy to help.
Plenty of digital agencies out there offer free audits for PPC (Adwords), SEO, social media and other areas in digital marketing.
Add to the mix other options such as a number of free audit tools online and questions begin to arise -
Here we explore both approaches (paid vs free), provide a few tips on what to look out for and how to get the most value from your PPC strategy.
Free Vs Paid Audits: Understanding the Difference
What do you get for a paid audit?
Engaging with an Adwords certified professional or digital marketing agency for an audit should give you thorough results and recommendations or an action plan to improve your Adwords campaigns.
The agency or individual should spend reasonable time to really understand your business, your budget and your conversion goals. These steps are particularly important - subtle differences in the way keywords are targeted can be the difference between an effective campaign and burning a lot of money on poor quality visits to your site which may never convert into actual leads.
A manual audit will usually require you to grant at least 'view' access to your Adwords account. More detailed audits can typically include keyword / display research and competitor research.
What do you get for a free audit?
You Get What You Pay For
We're big proponents of this as a blanket rule when it comes to digital marketing - ultimately you get what you pay for - Adwords/PPC audits are no exception. Arm yourself with these words of caution along with an 'if it's too good to be true it probably is' mentality and trust your gut in these cases.
If still in doubt, you could consider a third party agency audit.
The Agency Side
Data is great (and readily available), but how your agency interprets the data is the real test.
Insight is what holds the real value and this is still a key component that can easily separate a seasoned PPC professional from many great online tools.
There are a number of these tools, some which agencies will use to provide a 'free audit' as mentioned above.
Be mindful that most tools will allow you to run your own test for free* and produce the exact same data.
*some have free trials or quota caps on the free version
Some of the more popular tools available:
Tip: Any of these tools online will show up some errors in a report - no website or campaign is 100% perfect.
What to Look Out For
With all of this in mind, here are a few things that we still come across quite often and consider as possible red flags - be warned.
Doing it Yourself
Adwords is a challenging beast when you first start out.
There are guides online which can point you in the right direction to give the PPC audit or management of your campaigns a red-hot go yourself, but be warned - mistakes can be costly.
DIY Vs Working with a Certified Professional
Often, Adwords professionals will have worked on hundreds or even thousands of PPC accounts. You don't get that sort of experience by reading a couple of guides online and hoping for the best.
The type of insight that a good certified Adwords Professional can gain in a couple of hours of an audit could be more than someone less skilled might do in several weeks (or months).
More recently, there is Google's 'Adwords Express' option. This is AI-based and essentially like setting the campaigns to autopilot. AI then attempts to do most of the hard work for you. Even with that, there is always a risk of wasting budget (which Google doesn't seem to usually mind so much :)
Here's more info on how it works: https://www.google.com.au/adwords/express/how-it-works/
Be mindful of the available options and what's involved.
Adwords is a great tool, but simple mistakes can add up. If not done correctly, Adwords can also be a great way to lose a lot of money.
Or... 'Where did my little green box go?'
(2 min read)
Along with recently adding the ability to use code-based 'IF' functions in Adwords, Google has made another more immediately noticeable change to their Adwords platform in the past week.
We first noticed signs of this being rolled out/tested last Friday 24 Feb and it now seems, from our testing, to be officially rolled out on all searches (at least in Australia).
Here is the change:
What Does The Latest Change Mean?
The real core of the change is that the Ads now look less like Ads and more like the organic results in Google. By making the ads less obvious as 'being ads', the logical conclusion is that the goal from Google here is to raise CTR (Click Through Rate) for Adwords ads.
Yes it's a small change. Though it has a number of possible side effects:
1. Better results for advertisers?
2. More revenue for Google?
3. Increased incidence of 'accidental clicks' from less savvy users?
4. Less intentional click fraud? (an interesting result that happened last year after Google changed the colour of the [Ad] box from yellow to green).
It will be interesting to turn to the data over the next few months to see what the real impact of the changes are.
The Evolution of Adwords Display Results
Over time the way that 'Ads' have been represented on Google search results pages has evolved.
Any change could be called a natural progression, though it often causes a stir amongst industry professionals. For example, there was quite a hubbub amongst the digital marketing community in June last year when Google made their last most recent change - replacing the long-standing yellow [Ad] label with a less prominent green background.
The diagram below is a visual representation of the evolution of Adwords visual changes from 2001 to 2017:
And The Other Side...
Some might immediately jump to the conclusion here that the recent Adwords change is purely about Google increasing revenue.
But, it is worth noting that the visibility of ads in Google search results is actually far more apparent than competitors Bing and Yahoo and has been for some time, suggesting that Google has taken a much more iterative (and fair?) approach to the process.
See examples below from both Bing and Yahoo.
Yahoo Ads Example:
Bing Ads Example:
What do you think about the recent change? Please leave comments below.
(11:30 min read)
Google's Adwords are one aspect of Search Engine Marketing or 'SEM'. Running an Adwords campaign can be an involved process and a little daunting if you're new to it or starting to wonder what your digital agency is doing each month.
Grab a coffee and let's dive in.
Starting With A Relationship of Trust
A good Adwords agency or consultant can become an invaluable member of your team. The relationship ideally could be a long one - growing and changing with your business' needs over time.
Your Adwords consultant should care about your business and goals and should ask appropriate questions to really try to understand what you do and what you are trying to achieve.
If in doubt, interview a few possible agencies or consultants - it's good to compare and the exercise of doing so might immediately make some of the differences between providers more apparent.
Some businesses just want the cheapest option. But most people realise that what seems cheap can end up costing you more in the long term. With Adwords more than anything, it's so easy for someone inexperienced to blow your budget on the wrong type of keywords which lead to bad traffic and poor conversions, or keywords and strategy that is way too broad and just won't give you the ROI that you could be getting in the hands of an experienced, certified Google Adwords consultant.
So, Can I Do Adwords Myself?
It might be tempting to dive in there and have a go.
Though as mentioned above, setting things up wrong or going the cheap route can end up costing you a lot more in the long term.
This being said... yes, there are a lot of resources online on the subject. You can even go ahead and get Adwords Certified yourself if you really want to.
Though, you could perhaps ask the same question about doing your own bookkeeping, or servicing your own car; ultimately - is it something you really want to get your hands dirty with, or would you be better to focus on running your business and leave it in the hands of a professional?
Some clients we've worked with like to monitor* their own accounts after the initial set up period (see below info about phases). This is sometimes a good way of reaching middle ground with your Adwords agency or consultant.
*Notice we said 'monitor' here and not 'tinker with' :)
Don't Forget Your Website
Before you start with Adwords, it's important to ensure that your website is optimised/designed for conversion AND aligned with your Adwords goals.
This has two massively important outcomes:
1. It ensures that the traffic coming to your site from the Adwords ads is more likely to convert into a lead/enquiry.
2. Your landing page experience and relevance directly affects your Adwords quality score and (along with your bid amount), your resulting Ad Rank.
In short - higher 'quality score' means that ads could be more likely to show and you can pay less for the clicks that you do get.
Get it wrong and the opposite could be true.
Google in particular has been focusing for a while now and more than ever on user experience. It's not enough just to get people to your website, you also need to give them a good experience when they get there.
Just How Important Is Quality Score?
According to a recent article from PPC experts Wordstream, 'very important': "accounts with quality scores of 6 or higher are granted a 16-50% decrease in CPC, whereas accounts with a 4 or lower Quality Score see a 25-400% increase in CPC."
* Image source and credit to Wordstream
What's Actually Involved in an Adwords Campaign?
The process can be broken down into two general stages:
Stage 1 ‘Audit / Setup’
Is usually the most labour intensive stage. This can sometimes involve 'fixing up' another agencies mistakes or taking an audit and 'resetting' a campaign based on new/current business objectives. If the campaign hasn't been touched in a while - giving things a good clean out and update in line with current Google best practices might be needed.
An example of work that could be done during the 'setup or audit' phase:
Stage 2 ‘Maintenance’
Can vary in terms of involvement. Adwords campaigns can be relatively low effort to maintain if the goals of the campaign seldom change, or high maintenance if the client/campaigns are highly varied, seasonal and constantly updated.
An example of work that could be done during the 'maintenance' phase:
Additional services and more complex campaigns:
Think of working with Google like trying to kick a goal, but the posts keep moving and occasionally the size and shape of the ball gets changed."
How Do Agencies Bill for Adwords?
Whether you’re working with a digital agency or certified Adwords consultant, it usually all comes down to the hours spent and how this then translates to billing (the agency/consultant should have your best interests in mind and be working towards building a long term relationship, but they do still need to get paid).
A typical hourly rate in Australia could vary from around $80-150 per hour for an Adwords certified individual, or around $120-180 an hour as a ‘blended rate’ for an agency.
Who Gets Paid What?
The pie is usually broken down into:
This 'management fee' covers a real human's time to monitor the campaign and is important; your agency should be checking the campaign regularly and analysing the data to make improvements and changes as needed.
Whilst work usually reduces after the first 2-3 months, Adwords is certainly not a 'set and forget' solution (See earlier discussion around ‘setup’ versus ‘maintenance’ phases).
Adwords Billing for the 'Management' Component
This can arrive wearing a few different hats.
Most common practice these days seems to be either to be charged a percentage of the media/ad spend on top (+10-30% which can vary depending on the size of the campaign), pay by the hour or a flat monthly fee/retainer.
Some other billing models also include CPA billing, percentage of profit/sales, number of keywords in the campaign or being charged per click (note: avoid this last one!) this excellent article dives into more detail about Adwords PPC billing models.
Overall - transparency is the most important thing here. Regardless of what SEM/Adwords billing model your agency chooses to use; they should be able to explain how they are billing you and justify their reasons for doing so.
Packages Vs Custom Quote Solutions
Agencies will often package their Adwords offerings into different levels with set deliverables. This can make things more easy to digest for the uninitiated or speed up the initial consultation process, but can come at the cost of flexibility.
Rely on 'fitting' your business into a pre-determined package / solution / level (for example: 'bronze', 'silver', 'gold').
The Adwords Consultant or Agency takes time to understand your business and recommends the solution to best fit your business needs.
This option is strongly recommended for mid-large size or more complex campaigns.
Pros: More flexible. Get and only pay for what you need.
Cons: Could be more time consuming initially (compared to just signing a package brochure).
Then, Should I Stop Paying After 3 Months?
In Short: No
It's true that Adwords campaigns usually require less work after the first 2-3 months once things have shifted into 'maintenance' mode, but there is still work to be done (as mentioned above).
To be competitive, in some cases the agency might even make a loss during the first few months to prove themselves, then rely on the long term relationship to actually get paid.
Considerations over a 6-12 month campaign:
Even then, if 6-12 months still seems like a long time...
You should -
You could -
Ultimately, you should be satisfied that the amount of maintenance work being done is consistent with what you are paying, your expectations and the agreements in your particular contract.
Important Things to Look Out For
The 'size' of the campaign (number of keywords in the campaign or monthly spend) can possibly equal more work but not always, so take care.
Is my digital agency or Adwords consultant Google Certified?
Google will never charge an 'admin fee'. Invoices from your agency or consultant should be clearly separated to show the media/ad spend and any admin/management costs.
Automation software is becoming more popular with bigger agencies that manage a large number of campaigns. Do take some care with these arrangements as they rely on the data and campaigns being set up correctly from the start and the occasional human check still doesn’t go astray (don't be scared of AI though :) It's really not new - Google has been using ‘AI’ or ‘Machine Learning’ on it’s Adwords platforms since around 2008. Where do you think 'automated bidding strategies' come from? )
How To Measure ROI?
Again, it's important to be clear on your business goals and expectations.
Google Keyword Planner and Display Planner both have prediction modelling to give you a rough idea of how much traffic to expect from a campaign (there's that AI again), BUT the landscape is always changing; new competitors are starting up with Adwords every week and trends in what people are searching for changes over time.
AND even if traffic is delivered to your website, even if someone fills out an enquiry form... it might still be up to your sales team to convert them into customers. Some of the responsibility is still on your side. Not every person that walks into a shop buys something, right?
Goals should always be clear and specific (SMART) to most effectively measure ROI.
Some example goals:
Also ensure that conversion tracking is set up wherever possible to properly record and attribute these.
In summary, you usually want an advertising exercise to be cashflow positive, so:
Cost of spend to Google + cost of your Adwords Professional or Agency < $Sales Profit from the Campaign*
*The exception to this rule could be a very focused display or social campaign where the goal is increased brand awareness. This is traditionally very hard to measure, although Google are making strong inroads in this area and are certainly getting better at measuring ‘Brand Lift’. Of course there are other areas of 'added value' that are also difficult to measure precisely.
Google Adwords can be a highly effective tool for many businesses, large or small.
Take the time to set goals, do some due diligence and be clear on what to expect in order to avoid any pitfalls and get the best results.
How much you should pay your agency for Adwords may vary depending on your goals and the size f the campaign you're running but general rules of thumb are:
If something doesn't seem right, don't be shy to ask questions - a good agency should be able to answer them for you. And if still in doubt, consider seeking a certified, expert third party opinion.