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Five things you can do to your Google Ads campaigns every week to keep them from bleeding money

Google Ads campaigns require constant care and feeding. This post explains five important housekeeping items that advertisers can implement to minimize unqualified clicks and ensure their Google Ads campaigns are running efficiently.


With nearly 28 billion dollars in ad revenue and over 4 million advertisers, Google dominates the search marketing landscape. This level of market saturation is making advertising on Google increasingly more competitive.

The average cost per click (CPC) across all industries for search was $2.69 in 2018 and $.63 for display. But, remember, these are averages and depending on your industry, CPCs can be much higher. This can turn your Google ads into a huge money pit, especially if you don’t pay attention to your campaigns on a regular basis.

In this post, I’m going to review five important housekeeping items you should be doing to minimize wasteful spending on Google.

I’m focusing on keyword search only. Optimizing for display is an entirely different animal (and post).

1. Build account-level negative keyword lists

You can prevent your ad from appearing for a keyword or phrase by adding it as a negative term to your Google Ads account. This is the single best way to eliminate wasteful clicks!

Negative keywords can be added at the account, campaign or ad group levels. The easiest way to add negative keywords is to build negative keyword lists which can be assigned at the appropriate level based on your goals. Here’s how to create a negative keyword list.

  • Log into Google Ads and click on the Tools icon at the top of the screen

  • Select “Negative keyword lists” under “Shared Library”

  • Click the plus sign to create a new list

  • Give the list a name (e.g., “competitors”)

  • Enter your negative keywords into the field provided and click “Save”

  • Apply the negative keyword to a campaign or multiple campaigns by selecting the checkbox next to the list, clicking “campaigns” and selecting the campaign you want to assign the list to (you can also apply a negative list at the ad group level, but only from within the ad group view).

Google-Ads-Negative-Keyword-List Google Ads Google ad campaigns

Image Source: Google Ads

2. Review your search terms report to discover negative terms and long-tail (positive) terms

Most Google advertisers know about keyword match types, but in case you need a refresher, here’s the 30-second overview.

There are four keyword match types that you can use in your campaigns: broad, modified broad, phrase, and exact. You can designate a keyword match type by using quotes, plus signs, square brackets or nothing at all.

  • Broad match = keyword

  • Modified broad match = +keyword

  • Phrase match = “keyword”

  • Exact match = [keyword]

The match type you use has a direct influence on whether your ad does or does not appear for a given search query. Here’s a summary of what that means from Google’s perspective:

Google-Ads-Match-Type Google Ads Google ad campaigns

Image Source: Google

So, you see, when you bid on broad and phrase match terms, your ad can show up for a variety of keywords and phrases that you’re not directly bidding on. This is not always ideal.

In the above example, the term “women’s clothing” will trigger an ad for a company bidding on the broad match term “women’s hats.” This company may only sell hats and accessories, so appearing for the term “women’s clothing” may be too broad. In this case, the advertiser will probably want to add the term “women’s clothing” as a negative term.

Pro Tip: When adding terms as negatives, try to stick with “exact” match negatives (e.g., [women’s clothing] so you don’t end up blocking traffic from relevant searches.

The best way to discover exactly what queries are triggering your ad is to review Google’s search terms report. This report can be accessed by clicking on the Keywords link on the left side of the screen when logged into your Google ads account then selecting “Search Terms” at the top of the screen.

Google-Ads-Search-Term-Report Google Ads Google ad campaigns

Image Source: Google Ads

The above image shows three search terms that triggered ads. One term is part of the keyword list in this account (it’s the one with the green checkmark and the word “Added” beside it.) The other two terms (with the word “None” beside them) are not part of the keyword list for this account but are nevertheless triggering ads.

These keywords may or may not be relevant to this advertiser’s business. It’s up to you, as the advertiser, to determine what terms are worth bidding on and what terms you want to add as negatives.
In this case, both terms are not valuable terms for this advertiser, so we added them as negatives to the account.

Google makes it very easy to do this. Just check the boxes next to the keywords you want to add as negatives, click “Add as negative keyword” and a wizard will pop up giving you a few options.

Google-Ads-Add-Negative-Keyword Google Ads Google ad campaigns

When you check the boxes to the left of a term in the search terms report, you get the option to add the keyword(s) to your campaign or add it as a negative keyword. If you select “Add as negative keyword” the following wizard pops up.

Google-Ads-Negative-Keyword-Group Google Ads Google ad campaigns

You now have the option to add the keyword(s) as negatives at the ad group or campaign level, or include them in an existing negative keyword list. Once you decide where you want to add the term, click save and you’re done.

I recommend going through your search term report weekly and adding negatives based on keyword relevance and performance. The search terms report shows all the standard keyword metrics that the regular keyword report shows (impressions, clicks, cost, conversions, etc.) which makes it easier to determine the value of each keyword.

The search terms report can also be used to discover new keywords to add to your account. In this case, instead of clicking on “Add as negative keyword”, you’ll select, “Add as keyword” to add the respective term to your account.

3. Perform weekly keyword optimization and quality score review

Google determines the price you pay per click based on a variety of things. These include your maximum bid amount (or your CPA amount, depending on what bid strategy you’re using), your ad rank, and your quality score.

  • Maximum Bid: Your maximum bid is the maximum amount you’re willing to pay per click for a given keyword.

  • Quality Score: Google uses quality score to determine how relevant your ad is to a given keyword query. Relevant ads have a higher quality score which means they appear in the auction more often and show up higher up in the paid results. The exact formula that Google uses to determine ad quality is a mystery, but ad clickthrough rate, bid amount, landing page relevance, and ad rank all factor into a keyword’s quality score.

  • Ad Rank: The ad rank is a value that Google uses to determine what position your ad will appear in the search results relative to other ads. Ad rank is highly influenced by relative clickthrough rate of your ads compared to your competitors’ ads as well as historical data from Google. It gets kind of wonky and complicated, but here’s Google’s official definition of ad rank.

Maximum bid, ad rank, and quality score all work together to determine the actual cost per click of your ad.

If you notice that your CPCs are increasing, it likely means that your keywords are suffering from poor quality.

The best way to counteract the rising-CPC phenomenon is to diligently optimize your keywords each week.

You do this by pausing low quality terms (those terms with a quality score of 1 or 2), raising bids on terms that fall below the first page of search results, and using your search term report to add relevant terms to the account (look for terms with a high CTR and strong conversion metrics).

Google, naturally, provides some reports to help you optimize your keywords. The keyword report can be customized to show keyword quality score and minimum bid requirements.

5things6 Google Ads Google ad campaigns

The above image shows several quality attributes for the example keywords including quality score, historical quality score, ad relevance, estimated top of page bid and estimated first page bid.

These keywords have average to good quality (7/10 is very good). Ad relevance is above average. For each of these keywords, the top of page bid requirement lower than the current Max. CPC.

I also included the estimated first position bid. Bidding to the top position can be incredibly expensive. Don’t do it unless you have a bottomless budget. It’s usually fine to keep your bids close to the “top of page” bid amount rather than first position.

Just make sure you’re also looking at the average positions for your keywords. An average position of 4 or more falls below the organic search results. This can contribute to poor CTR and poor engagement from searchers.

4. Monitor bids and lowering them where applicable

One of the simplest ways to save money on search is to lower your bids. This isn’t always possible though – it depends on your keywords’ quality scores and the level of competition for a given keyword.

Remember the estimated first position bid from the previous tip? We’re going to expand on that a little bit with this next tip.

Google lets advertisers see three estimated bid levels – top of page, first position, and first page bid estimates. You can customize your keyword report to show you these metrics, keyword CTR, average position and your current maximum CPC (note: you cannot adjust your CPC if you’re using Smart Bidding which focused on cost per conversion rather than cost per click).

Google-Ads-Example Google Ads Google ad campaigns

In the above table, the lowest estimated bid amount is $1.55 for the first keyword. The advertiser is currently bidding $2.00 for this term which is showing up (on average) in the 2.9 position.

I personally wouldn’t lower this bid because the position is already hovering at around 3, but if this is a keyword that’s not a high performer or a term that’s not crucial to the advertiser’s end goal, then there’s no harm in lowering the bid to $1.55. This may move the ad lower in the search results, but it’ll still be on the first page of results.

Lowering bids incrementally and on a weekly basis will help you maintain your current CPC and possibly even lower your CPC over time (hooray for increased efficiency!)

5. Use remarketing lists for search (RLSA)

My final tip is one all the pros use – remarketing lists for search or RLSA. RLSA is a way to target your search ads to people who have previously visited your website. Important note: certain sensitive categories cannot use remarketing lists, these include healthcare, personal hardships (e.g., divorce), and sexual interests.

Make sure you familiarize yourself with Google’s personalized advertising policies before implementing RLSA or remarketing for display.

To create a remarketing list, you’ll need to tag your website with Google’s remarketing tag. You can then start building a remarketing list, but cannot use it in your search campaigns until the list has 1000 users.

Google has created an extensive guide for building and implementing RLSA, so I won’t recreate that here. There are several benefits to adding RLSA to your search campaigns:

  1. You can increase bids on keywords for people who have previously visited your website

  2. You can show a different ad to site visitors based on actions they took on your site (e.g., added an item to your shopping cart

  3. You can bid on keywords just for people who have previously visited your site, even if these are not terms that you typically bid on (e.g., broader terms in a similar category).

One final note about RLSA – it’s the one tip on this list that’s not something you’ll do weekly.

RLSA can help you save money by decreasing irrelevant clicks and increasing conversions.


Well, you’ve got some work to do so I’ll let you go for now. The key takeaway with all of these tips is that paid search is not a “set it and forget it” venture.

Weekly optimization of bids, keywords, and quality score is necessary to minimize unqualified and costly clicks. A bit of vigilance can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars and ensure your ads appear on the first page of search results for your desired keywords.

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Published on Feb 13, 2019 by Jacqueline Dooley