We are always engaging with marketers in the E-Learning world about the latest strategies in paid search. One of their most common questions from the last few years is:
“When and how should we use Google’s automated bid strategies in our PPC campaigns?”
This is a great question that deserves a good deal of consideration before taking action.
Whether marketers like it or not, Google will always have significantly more information about the people performing searches than we do. Thus, using Google’s advanced AI and machine learning to better inform our bidding can lead to some impressive campaign results. That said, while these strategies can provide a lot of advantages in running a campaign, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” certainly applies to automated bidding. It’s an absolute must to ensure that your account is set up correctly before leveraging this potentially powerful tool.
For purposes of this article, we’ll only consider strategies that are available to search campaigns. Note that other options are available when it comes to display, YouTube, etc.
Types of Automated Bidding for E-Learning
Let’s first consider the different types of automated bidding that are available, and when they might be appropriate for use. Note that this list leaves out certain strategies that are not generally applicable to E-Learning organizations – at least most of the time.
Manual Bidding with Enhanced CPC (ECPC)
This is a strategy that you could think of as “machine learning light.” When this option is selected in a Google Ads campaign, you get to maintain control of your bids at the keyword level, as well as via bid modifiers such as device, audience, geo-target, and time of day. Google will then reserve the right to raise or lower the bid when their algorithm indicates a chance of conversion that is higher or lower than the average.
For example, if Google knows from past search history that a given individual is in the market for your product or service and is, therefore, more likely to convert, the algorithm may set the bid 100% higher than normal in an attempt to win that auction. If past history indicates a lower chance of conversion, on the other hand, the bid may be set lower.
Enhanced CPC can be a highly valid strategy, both as an interim step towards using fully automated bidding as well as for continuous use in campaign management.
As the name suggests, this automated strategy simply looks at clicks as the sole performance metric, with one variant being that you may select the highest amount you are willing to pay for a click. In our opinion, barring some very specific cases, this is not an ideal strategy for ongoing account management. It CAN be useful when first launching a campaign and trying to get a sense for the available traffic and appropriate keyword bids. But beyond that scenario, this is usually an approach that we would avoid.
Maximize Conversions / Target Cost Per Action
These bidding strategies employ the Google algorithm to seek the highest possible number of conversions within the constraints of the campaign budget, targeting, and conversion tracking setup. Target Cost Per Action, or TCPA as it is commonly called, is essentially a “max conversions” strategy, with the added goal of trying to hit a given cost per conversion target.
Account Setup for Automated Bidding
If you plan to use ECPC, max conversions, or target CPA bidding strategies, you must first ensure that your account has established conversion tracking in a way that makes sense for automation. The following is a quick checklist to see if your account is ready to go:
- Conversion Actions Established – It should probably go without saying, but you must first have conversion actions set up in your account before conversion-focused automated bidding can be used. Actions can be set up a Google Ads conversion tag, or they can be imported from Google Analytics. In most cases, care should be taken to ensure that no duplicate conversions are being recorded, and that data is coming in accurately.
- Bidding Should be Based on “Like” Conversions – If you have more than one conversion type established and plan to use multiple conversions for optimization, it is important that these conversion actions are “like” one another in that they measure an action of similar value to your organization. For example, if your account is tracking email leads, applications, and paid enrollments, these conversions are all very different in value to one another. Thus, it would NOT be appropriate to use, say, target CPA for a campaign that is tracking all three of these conversion types as it would generate very unpredictable results. So, at some point, you have to decide which metric to use for bidding optimization, and then narrow down your tracking to just those actions.
- “Include in Conversions” – Once you have determined which conversion actions will be used for optimization, you must indicate to Google which actions to include in the “Conversions” columns of the platform. This will be the determining factor in what Google will use to measure your conversion numbers, cost per conversion, conversion rate, etc. This can be set at the account level in the Conversions interface of Google Ads. Additionally, Google recently rolled out the ability to set conversions by campaign. This opens up the possibility that you could have automatically bid campaigns that might be aiming for goals that are different from each other, such as one campaign looking to drive email leads, while another uses a TCPA strategy based on applications.
Automated bidding can be a very useful tool for account optimization. If you take the time to make sure that your account is set up appropriately to use it, it can free up a great deal of time and energy that can then be put into more qualitative aspects of campaign management. Regardless of the pros and cons, t’s definitely worth a try!