Red Light, Green Light – Navigating Google Ad Recommendations Safely

You’re in your Google Ads account and notice that the all-knowing Google has some suggestions for you to “improve” your performance and raise your Optiscore. They must know what they’re doing, right? Surely it’s safe to quickly run through these recommendations and click those little blue ‘Apply All’ buttons. But watch out! Just like you wouldn’t run across the street before checking both ways, you shouldn’t blindly accept that Google knows what is best for you and your business. 

Green Light – You’re Good to Go

These items are what all recommendations should be, helpful, time-saving, and good for your account. 

Remove Non-Serving Keywords

Google flags a keyword as non-serving when it has low search volume and hasn’t had an impression in over a year. Clean up your keywords, and make managing your account easier by getting rid of these non-performers.

Audience Segments

This recommendation provides you with quality, intelligent reporting on audience segments applicable to your company. Audiences are a group of people with specific intents, demographics, and interests. When adding an audience to a campaign or ad group, you can select from a wide range of segments. Audience segments for reporting give you the ability to learn more about your target audiences and improve your account to attract more relevant people. This is a no-risk update.

Use Optimized Ad Rotation

If you have multiple ads in an ad group, over time, the system collects data and ads that are predicted to be clicked more often. These will be given preference over other ads in your ad group. Ad rotation gives preference to your best, most relevant ad (most often those with a high click-through rate to obtain better results.  

Yellow Light – Proceed with Caution

These recommendations, while potentially great for your campaigns, should be reviewed carefully before being accepted.

Remove Conflicting Negative Keywords

Conflicting negative keywords block potential quality traffic. However, you may have intentionally put that negative keyword in your campaign or ad group. Perhaps the normal keywords were added by mistake, and the negative keyword just saved you a significant amount of money. Or maybe you want to make sure search queries appear in the correct ad groups or campaigns.

Take, for example, you have a phrase match keyword “horse saddles,” and you want to appear to searchers whose core search is ‘horse saddles’ but are longer tail search terms like “leather horse saddles” or “high end horse saddles.” To accomplish this, add an exact match negative keyword [horse saddles] to the negative keyword tab. Now ads being triggered by just the term ‘horse saddles’ will be blocked, but others that contain this phrase will trigger the ad.

Add Responsive Search Ads

With Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) having been discontinued and no longer editable in Google (read more about ETAs sunsetting), you should have done this one already. In case you haven’t added responsive search ads to all your ad groups, here’s your chance! 

Responsive search ads (RSAs) are excellent for figuring out which combinations of your ad copy work best. There are up to 15 headlines and four descriptions for you to create and make your ads more relevant to customers. Google Ads machine learning tests which ad copy combinations perform best and prioritizes them. 

Their suggested ad copy comes from your existing ads and ideas based on your website, which sounds great. But they may be pulling from an ad that has ad copy about a current sale, but you only wanted the sale information in a specific ad due to a test you’re running. Or perhaps the wording is not exactly what you would want in your RSAs. There have been instances where punctuation is not correct and where the ad copy doesn’t quite make sense. Review and accept with caution.

Improve Responsive Search Ads

Related to the above recommendation, but this is for those of you who have already created RSAs. Recommendations will alert you if you haven’t included all 15 headlines and four descriptions and will even give you some ideas as to what ad copy to use. Accepting this recommendation may increase Ad strength, but make sure you read what Google is trying to put in your ads. And the same caution applies to the recommendation above.

Optimized Targeting

This recommendation can help you get in touch with new and relevant customers that are more likely to convert. It works best for advertisers who want to acquire new customers that are beyond existing segments and who want to get more conversions at a similar cost per conversion. However, if you want to target more specific audiences, optimized targeting can confuse your data. Accounts need to be monitored because not all conversions are not considered equal, and your money could be wasted.

Display Expansion

Just like optimized targeting, display expansion can get your ads in front of new audiences you would have not otherwise reached, and similarly, it can cost you. If you have a high budget and want to amp up your business, give this recommendation a try, but keep an eye on your campaign’s performance. 

Another reason you might want to opt-in to display expansion is if you don’t have time to maintain separate Search and Display campaigns (which is our preferred setup).  

Red Light – Stop!

Slam on the brakes and do not accept these recommendations.

Remove Redundant Keywords

Redundant keywords are sometimes confused with non-serving keywords. However, they are keywords with the same match type in the same ad group. Most likely, you have put them in your campaign for a good reason. Keywords may be similar and have a different word order, such as “house cleaning” and “cleaning house,” and be considered redundant by Google. You may have learned that these two variations perform very differently. If “house cleaning” is performing better, you definitely don’t want to remove it. Plus, the term might appear again in future search queries. Why go through the unnecessary process of removing and adding the same keywords? Plus, with Performance Max (PMax) valuing exact match versions of your keywords in Search campaigns over matching to the PMax campaign, it makes sense to leave them in your Search campaigns.

Upgrade Your Existing Keywords to Broad Match

Broad match spreads a wide net, giving you more volume but, more likely than not, less relevant traffic. A broad match search query might not even contain any of your targeted keywords. Let’s say you only sell bicycles, and your keyword is mountain bikes. Your ad could appear to someone who searches the term “sports equipment.” Or perhaps you sell only prom dresses, and the search term “wedding dresses” could potentially trigger your ad. Phrase and exact match types might not be as tight as they used to be, but they still attract a more relevant audience than broad match. 

That’s not to say broad match isn’t something you should ever do. It is worth testing Broad match with Smart Bidding, but we advise you to do it in your own ad group or campaign where you can carefully watch, evaluate, and optimize instead of changing all of your existing keywords to broad match.

Expand Your Reach with Google Search Partners

Search Partners network is a collection of thousands of search engine sites that partner with Google to deliver ads on their search results pages. It allows advertisers to broaden the reach of their ads to appear on websites besides Google’s search engine. If you have the budget and are looking to expand your reach, give it a test. The drawback is that there’s a huge lack of transparency. Google doesn’t let you know all the websites they are potentially allowing your ads to show on, and you wouldn’t be able to pick where your ads show even if they had that information available. If you’ve turned off Search Partners, hopefully, that means you’ve already tested how they perform and found they haven’t for your account. If you haven’t tested them, it’s worth testing cautiously.

Upgrade Your Conversion Tracking with Data-Driven Attribution

In theory, this recommendation sounds great, but unfortunately, Google’s AI is not quite able to model human behavior as of yet. Read more about Data-Driven Attribution and why it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be in my colleague’s blog.

Bidding Recommendations

Found in the Auto-apply recommendations, anything under this category usually is a big NO. Bidding is too important to just let Google’s machine learning make changes without human intervention. There may be business reasons why you have things set the way they are, and it takes an actual human to ascertain whether it’s a good idea to modify how you are bidding.

Google’s recommendations can save time, provide guidance, and improve your account, but these suggestions should be looked at closely and not blindly accepted. Every business, account, and campaign is different. You need to figure out what works best for you. And if you do accept something that might be a bit risky, monitor it closely. It’s your money, not Google’s.

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