For some time now, automated bidding strategies have been a buzzword for anyone working in paid search. Phrases such as ‘maximising conversions’ and ‘target CPA’ are thrown around the office like they’re going out of fashion.
But what are they and can they help us improve our digital campaigns?
Before the robots take over our jobs entirely, we thought we’d give you a rundown of all the automated bidding strategies offered by Google; what’s good about them, their flaws and, ultimately, whether you should be using them.
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite - Maximise Conversions. The goal of this automated bidding strategy is to get as many conversions as possible while spending your daily budget. Cleverly, Google uses a range of signals such as historical data, time of day, browser, device (the list goes on) to tailor bids to each individual user.
The results? Google proudly announced when this bidding strategy was first released, that decking company Trex saw a 73% increase in conversions, a 59% increase in conversion rate and a 42% lower CPA.
Too good to be true?
Relatively straightforward to set up yes, but not to be used without caution. Firstly, and most crucially, conversion tracking needs to be in place for this to work. If Google is after conversions that don’t exist, Google is going to make some pretty dubious decisions.
As well as this, it’s important that campaigns have their own budgets. If not, Google will spend the daily budget of the entire shared group, not just its own allocation.
A common downside when switching to Maximise Conversions is the lack of control over the account and bidding, as well as less data for troubleshooting. If you like having complete control over your account, this strategy might not be your favourite.
Linked to this, as campaigns will now spend their allocated daily budget, campaigns that were previously underspending on manual bidding will see an inevitable increase in spend. This is clearly worth noting if you’re thinking of making the switch.
Very similar to Maximise Conversions but, as you’d expect, Google optimises to clicks rather than conversions. This strategy is great if you want to drive more people to your site.
The thing to be careful of here is your CPCs. This strategy will go after more clicks even if they are far more expensive than normal. The similar drawbacks to Maximising Conversions also apply; less control and the potential for spend to shoot up.
Next up - my favourite paid search buzzword - Target CPA. This bidding strategy optimises bids to get the most conversions at a target Cost per Acquisition (CPA) that you have set.
If, for example, you choose a target CPA of £10, Google will automatically set your CPC bids to get you as many conversions as possible for an average CPA of £10. Crucially, you can set maximum and minimum bid limits so you don’t over or underspend on your campaigns.
The benefits are fairly obvious. If set up correctly there is the potential for your campaigns to hit specific CPA targets. Additionally, you’ll save time manually altering bids to hit your CPA.
But what’s the catch?
Firstly, as with any conversion-centred bidding strategy, having conversion tracking set up properly is key. Without this in place, Target CPA won’t work.
In addition, Google needs to have a certain amount of historical conversion data to work with; at least 15 conversions within the last 30 days AND 30 days of consistent conversion data. If this isn’t the case for your account, then this isn’t the bidding strategy for you.
Do remember that the target CPA you set is exactly that, a target, and Google’s automation can sometimes miss the mark. As with any automated bidding strategy, a human’s overview shouldn’t be underestimated.
We like to think of Target ROAS as the sister to Target CPA. Rather than conversions, this automated bidding strategy ensures Google optimises to return on ad spend, which is calculated by dividing the ad revenue by the ad cost.
This metric can be useful as it gives us a better understanding of the value driven by paid search campaigns rather than just the volume, a favourite with eCommerce clients as it goes beyond simple conversions and focuses on profit.
The downsides are similar to Target CPA, conversions (and conversion values), have to be set up correctly and historical conversion data needs to be readily available.
Target Impression Share
Target impression share does what it says on the tin; it’s designed to maximise your share of search ad impressions. This can be set to one of three placement options; absolute top of the page (right at the top), top of the page (above any organic results), or anywhere on the page (above or below any organic results).
Similar to maximising clicks, Target Impression Share is a great strategy if you want to drive more people to your site and can be useful when bidding against competitors.
Again, similar to maximising clicks, it’s important to keep an eye of inflated CPCs when using this bidding strategy. Thankfully, Google allows you to add max CPC bids to limit this, but even still, it’s worth making sure cost isn’t damaging performance.
Target Search Page Location
Target Search Page Location ensures your ads will be shown only on the first page or not at all. You have two options when doing this; have your ads shown at the top of the search results or on the first page of results. There’s potential for adjustments around bid automation, CPC bid limits, as well as a low-quality keyword setting.
As with Target Impression Share, this is great for visibility of ads, with the potential to really push CTRs. However, being in either position 1 or being on the first page of results doesn’t guarantee conversions. As a result, if performance and profitability measures are crucial for you, maybe this is one to avoid.
Target Outranking Share
Want to take on a competitor? Outbid them once and for all... Target Outranking Share is the bidding strategy for you (kind of).
As you would expect from its name, this bidding strategy is designed to help advertisers rank higher in search results than another domain, more often than not a key competitor. Google will automatically raise or lower your bids to help your ads outrank the ads of your competitor.
Firstly, this bidding strategy doesn’t necessarily improve your overall ad rank; it only works to help you improve your rank in comparison to one other domain’s ads. Other competitors with different domains could, and probably will be, competing on the same keyword.
As well as this, there is the potential for a bidding war between you and your competitor to kick off. This could lead to rising CPCs and ultimately a less profitable market. This isn’t good for anyone.
So, that brings an end to our delve into the world of automated bidding strategies. We hope this has given you a better understanding of what they are - their benefits, flaws and, ultimately, when they can be of use and how they can help (rather than hinder) our work in the wonderful world of paid search.