Beating your competitors in the Google Ads slugfest that happens 40,000 times every second isn’t easy. And, more importantly, wins don’t happen by accident.
There’s much more to Google Ads bidding than just the bid. What about audience conversion intent? Do you have bid adjustments in place? Are you using Smart Bidding?
The checklist can feel endless.
Even if you’re still looking for your first Google Ads breakthrough and haven’t yet experienced the joy of virtually destroying your deep-pocketed rivals, I’ve got good news.
All it comes down to is arming yourself with the right tricks, tools, and strategies—21 to be exact—and then releasing the Google Ads bidding monster. We’ve even created our own hybrid bidding strategies that have given performance lifts like the ones below:
Average CPC -31% | Cost/Conversion -33% | Conversion Volume +54%
By the end of this article, you’ll have the tools to get the same level of results from your own campaigns.
How does Google Ads bidding work?
Google gives you a multitude of ways to bid for ads depending on what your end goal is. Most advertisers focus on clicks, impressions, conversions, or views (for video ads).
Every single time Google has ad space available on a website within the search network or search results, it runs an auction. The auction decides which ads will show at that moment in that space. Your bid puts you in the auction. Sounds simple enough, but there’s a lot of nuances. Understanding those nuances is the best way to become a better bidder.
Depending on your business’s goal, there are several ways to bid for your ads. Below we’ll briefly break down those options so you can choose which bidding strategy best suits your business goals.
Three components of Google Ads auction rankings
Every Google Ads auction takes three major elements into account when it decides how your ad should rank:
- Your max cost-per-click bid (opens in a new tab) for the keyword
- Your quality score (opens in a new tab) for that keyword
- Your ad extensions and their relevance (opens in a new tab) to the ad and keyword
Like I mentioned earlier, the Google Ads auction happens extremely fast (and extremely often). So it’s vital that you know what’s out there to take advantage of.
Finally, if you’re trying to reach the ultimate level of Google Ads success, then I highly recommend you read our article on Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) (opens in a new tab).
In that post, we talk about the reason why you should care about the granularity of a Google Ads account and how it’ll give you even more of a positive bump for your Google Ads bidding strategies.
With all that said, it’s time to get deep into the details of Google Ads bidding.
Google Ads bidding best practices
The Google Ads (and everyone else’s) auction-based bidding model originally got its name from the Latin word “augeō,” which means “to increase”.
But “to increase” means to pay more. We don’t want to do that.
We want to make more profit and pay less.
When you’re setting goals for your PPC campaign (opens in a new tab), especially in the context of bidding and the average cost per conversion, you have to factor in the balance between conversion volume and cost per conversion.
For example, you can keep lowering bids, but that will eventually hurt your conversion volume.
You can keep increasing bids too, which might increase your conversion volume. But that will eventually increase your cost per conversion as well, and you’ll be burning through your budget faster.
To avoid those two scenarios, here are the bidding strategy best practices to live by:
- Make sure your conversion tracking (opens in a new tab) is audited and correct.
- Make sure your attribution model (opens in a new tab) is audited and appropriate for your goals.
- A/B test (opens in a new tab) your bidding strategies with Google’s Draft & Experiments feature.
- Research your goals and choose a bidding strategy that best aligns with that. Example: If you want to increase brand awareness, focus on impressions, not clicks.
- Evaluate the performance of your ads (opens in a new tab) and don’t be afraid to adjust based on your findings.
- Be patient and wait for enough data to make the right decision about your bid adjustments (opens in a new tab) – run things until you’ve reached at least a 95% confidence level.
- Simplify your account structure (opens in a new tab) so you can easily make changes to your bid strategies.
Set clear goals for your bidding strategies
When it comes time to decide what you want your ads to achieve, it’s important to set realistic and attainable goals.
It’s also important to consider that it’s unlikely all of your metrics will go in the same direction at the same time, but that’s okay. When it comes to hitting your goal metrics, it’s okay to sacrifice smaller metrics to hit your bigger ones.
Here’s an example of some attainable, clear goals:
Goal 1: Increase conversion rate by 20%
Goal 2: Increase ROAS by 15%
Goal 3: Decrease CPA by 45%
You can definitely try to obtain all of these goals at the same time, but often we find that it’s more effective to go after one or two of these goals. Make less important goals secondary–something to push for after your first goals are met.
Now that you know all these useful nuggets for getting started, let’s have a look at the types of bidding you can do.
Manual vs. smart bidding and automated bid strategies
We have another article that dives into tons of detail on manual vs smart bidding plus pros and cons, as well as how to determine which strategy is better for you (opens in a new tab). For now, we’ll lay it out in a brief overview so you can get a general picture.
What is manual bidding?
Manual bidding is exactly what it implies–you’re the one adjusting your bids manually at the keyword or adgroup level. So, you’re telling Google the maximum amount you’re willing to bid in an auction for your keywords.
You can decide to place a blanket bid on the adgroup level over all the keywords in that adgroup, or you can granulate your bids out keyword by keyword (opens in a new tab). Honestly, we’d recommend getting granular if you’re going with manual bidding.
What is automated bidding?
Automated bid strategies are those that use machine learning to optimize your bids on your behalf, based on certain campaign goals you’ve set.
How Google will optimize your bids depends on the strategy you’ve set and the goal that strategy is pursuing. We’ll explain strategy goals more in a bit, when we go over your bidding strategy options.
What is smart bidding?
Smart bidding is a subset of automated bidding strategies that use machine learning to optimize specifically for conversions or conversion value in every auction. This is a feature known as “auction-time bidding”.
Smart bidding strategies include target CPA, target ROAS, maximize conversions, maximize conversion value, and enhanced CPC (ECPC).
If you’re interested specifically in automated and smart bidding, then be sure to check out our article on smart and automated bidding (opens in a new tab) for a much more in-depth look.
12 Google Ads bidding strategy options: Everything you need to know
Do you want to do things tediously (manually) or efficiently (automatically)? The Google Ads bidding strategies we’re about to uncover can help you get closer and closer to your goals.
One thing to keep in mind however, is that nothing should ever be set on auto-pilot.
You (or your agency partner) (opens in a new tab) should always keep tabs on fluctuations in performance. And if you improve your conversion rates through landing page testing (opens in a new tab), understand that your bidding goals can improve and change very quickly. For example, higher conversion rates can support more aggressive bidding strategies.
In total, there are 12 different types of Google Ads bidding strategies available:
- Target CPA
- Target ROAS
- Maximize clicks
- Maximize conversions
- Maximize conversion value
- Target impression share
- Manual cost-per-click (CPC)
- Enhanced cost-per-click (ECPC)
- Viewable CRM (cost per 1,000 impressions)
- Maximum CPM (cost-per-view)
- Target CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions)
- Portfolio bid strategies
1. Target CPA
Get the most conversions possible at a target CPA set by you. This is best to use if your goal is to hit targets and increase leads.
- If your main advertising goal is getting conversions (like sales, signups, or mobile app downloads) at a designated CPA goal, then Target CPA bidding can help automatically get more conversions for your budget
- It uses your conversion tracking data to avoid unprofitable clicks and get more conversions at a lower cost
- Target CPA automatically generates bids to try and meet your target CPA
- You can’t set a maximum CPC bid cap when using this strategy campaign by campaign. (You can, however, when using it as a portfolio strategy) (opens in a new tab).
- tCPA requires a healthy budget to perform properly (your daily budget needs to be at least 2x your tCPA goal for that campaign, but ideally higher)
Side note: We used the tCPA bidding strategy for AnswerForce and saw a 30% increase in conversions along with a 12% decrease in CPA. Not too shabby.
2. Target ROAS
Do you have a certain ROI you want to hit when it comes to your PPC spend?
If so, using return on ad spend (ROAS) might be for you. ROAS is a metric that takes your conversion values (set at the conversion tracking stage) or Google Analytics eCommerce revenue values into account.
Let’s say you’d like an ROI of 7. This means that for every $1 you spend on clicks, you’re expecting $7 in return. The bid strategy’s target ROAS would then be set to 700%.
- Geared towards eCommerce platforms with multiple products, it can take the headache out of identifying the right balance between volume sellers and high-margin winners
- Helps put your ads in front of “buying-ready” audiences
- Requires that you feed Google the necessary info (product revenue) to know which keywords are most profitable and will optimize toward the terms that will return the best ROAS
- Optimizing for ROAS can sometimes reduce ad spend (because it’s trying to meet your return on ad spend goals by getting more revenue for less spend)
- It’s not trying to get you the highest dollar amount in revenue–ROAS is the only goal
3. Maximize clicks
With “Maximize clicks”, Google Ads automatically sets your bids to help get as many clicks as possible within your budget. This is ideal to use when you have a strong conversion performance and want to find more volume.
- Simple and straightforward – this is basic automated bidding
- Tends to lower CPCs and raise search impression share (SIS)
- The learning period for this strategy is shorter because clicks are easier to get
- Most efficient strategy for traffic generation
- Clicks and conversions can be lower quality
- Not actively going after conversions
Side note: We used this strategy for Sticky Bunny and saw a 1166% increase in sales which was the result of the 270% conversion rate increase. 🤑 Maximize clicks will find the volume.
4. Maximize conversions
If your goal is to increase sales or leads, you can have Google automatically set your bids to help you get the highest number of conversions within your budget. This strategy is great for using your entire budget in a single day.
- Helps drive higher conversion volume goals
- Automatically finds more people who are more likely to convert and bids higher on them
- No bid limit control so clicks can become very costly and you can easily shoot past your daily budget
- Google is interested in getting you the most conversions it can, but this can come at a higher cost which can raise your CPA, or lower your ROAS
5. Maximize conversion value
Google Ads automatically sets your bids to help you get the most conversion value within your budget. Google uses the info gathered about device, location, time of day, demographics, query, and more to find the optimal CPC bid for each auction.
- You’re automatically driving the highest dollar value revenue you can from your ads
- Google will be looking for people who are more likely to complete purchases of more value to you
- You might make more at the risk of spending more (so your ROAS won’t be as good)
- It’s not focused on getting you more conversions for your budget, only conversions that are worth more
6. Target impression share
Target impression share bidding automatically sets bids to help achieve your Impression Share goal across all campaigns.
There are three options for the Target impression share strategy, depending on where you want your ads to show:
- On the absolute top of the page
- On the top of the page
- Anywhere on the page of Google search results
This strategy lets you set a maximum CPC bid limit, which is a cap on the maximum amount you’ll let the strategy bid. If you set your limit too low, you risk restricting your bids, which can affect your goals. If you set no limit at all, your CPCs can really skyrocket, and you can burn through your budget fast.
- Great for brand keywords that you want to ensure you’re showing up for as much as possible (target 95% impression share)
- Helps ensure that your search top impression share (IS) is exactly where you want it
- Can be overly expensive, and yet still difficult to reach impression share goals
- Doesn’t necessarily optimize for conversions
7. Manual cost-per-click (CPC)
Manual cost per click allows you to set bids at either the ad group or keyword level.
Setting individual bids at the keyword level allows for the highest level of control. Ad group level manual bids, in contrast, give the same bid to all the keywords or placements within that ad group.
This is usually the best bidding strategy for new advertisers, new accounts, or new campaigns. You can keep a close eye on performance and make sure that none of your ads are overspending.
- Provides the highest level of control on your bids
- Your max CPC bid is the most you’ll be charged for a click, but you’ll often be charged less (notwithstanding any bid adjustments you have in place)
- Requires more work, time, and experience to keep the bids up to speed and get the best results
- Less detailed reports than automated bidding
- Doesn’t leverage Google’s machine learning algorithm to find users that are more likely to convert than others
Important Note: Keyword level bids override ad group level bids.
8. Enhanced cost-per-click (ECPC)
Enhanced CPC (ECPC) is a smart-bidding setting you can apply to manual CPC that gives Google the freedom to increase or decrease your bids when it determines there’s more or less chance of a conversion.
With so many options to choose from it can feel overwhelming. You might get the impression you need to spend more to see results, but the good thing is, it’s not just about who is willing to pay the most on Google Ads. Auctions take into consideration many other factors, including
- geographic location
- time of day
- audiences your potential visitor is part of
- browsing behavior
- expected CTR of your ad
- your Quality Score (opens in a new tab)
So don’t feel discouraged if you don’t have a huge budget. Google still has ways of helping you reach your goals.
- Typically increases click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CVR) more so than manual CPC bidding alone
- Reaches more people in a broader audience
- Because of the lack of bid caps, you can see an increase in CPC which may not be profitable for your account (but the same is true of other smart bidding strategies)
- The lack of bidding control can see you spending more than you have budgeted for daily
9. Viewable CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions)
Only available for Display Network (opens in a new tab), viewable CPM bidding allows you to set target bids for every 1,000 impressions where your display ad was considered viewable.
In the past, you could use target CPM bidding on display campaigns, meaning you’d pay for 1,000 impressions even if the majority of your ad was below the fold and not visible.
Now, you’re not wasting money on impressions where your ad was barely playing peek-a-boo above the fold–you’re only paying when your ad’s been seen clearly.
- A great way to raise brand awareness
- Predictable pricing
- You’re only paying per 1,000 times your ad has actually been viewable
- ROI on CPM can be lower on low trafficked sites
- Not intended for driving actual results (conversions)
10. Maximum CPV (cost-per-view)
If you’re planning to raise brand awareness with a Youtube campaign (opens in a new tab), this bid strategy will be one of only two bidding options.
With Maximum CPV, you set the highest bid you’re willing to pay for a video view (or an interaction with your ad). 30 seconds watched is considered a view, or if your video ad is shorter, then the entire ad watched is considered a view.
If someone interacts with your ad first, by clicking on any overlays you have or the like, then you’ll be charged your CPV bid for that.
So, you’re not paying for people who skip out on your ad, or close the video before the ad is finished.
- Great for driving actual views on your ads because you don’t pay for anyone who skips out
- Gets you in front of more interested audiences and raises brand awareness
- Tends to be fairly cheap–CPVs are typically below $1 (although it varies by industry)
- More views doesn’t guarantee more conversions, so this is mainly an awareness strategy
- It can be difficult to get someone to watch a full 30 second ad, so your message may be more easily heard with a 15 second ad
11. Target CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions)
As we mentioned earlier, this strategy used to be available for display campaigns, but now it’s only available on Youtube campaigns.
With this strategy, you’re getting charged your specified target CPM, which is not the maximum, but instead the average bid you’re comfortable paying for every 1,000 times your ad is shown.
Whether or not viewers finish the ad or skip it, your cost is based on the fact that your ad was shown.
- You’re getting your ad in front of the most unique viewers possible, which will boost brand awareness
- You’re charged for an impression whether someone skips your ad or not, so you’re potentially paying for a lot of waste
12. Portfolio bid strategies
Now that we know a little more about what each of the strategies above can do, we can speak a little bit about what portfolio bid strategies (opens in a new tab) are.
A portfolio bid strategy is when you create one bid strategy that’s applied across multiple campaigns, rather than applying different strategies on a campaign-by-campaign level.
The portfolio bid strategies available are: target CPA, maximize conversions, maximize conversion value, target ROAS and target impression share.
Portfolio bid strategies are housed in your shared library.
- Some strategies that otherwise don’t allow you to set a maximum CPC, do allow you to set one when they’re used as a portfolio bidding strategy. (tCPA, for example)
- The learning speed of the strategy is faster because it’s referencing data across multiple campaigns
- Campaigns need to have similar tCPA goals to use portfolio bidding
- Some campaigns may be favored over others, so you’ll see performance in one rise and performance in another dip
9 tips and tactics for Google Ads bidding
Now that you’re caught up on all the different ways you can set up bidding for your Google Ads, let’s get onto the good stuff. These are 9 different tips you can use to get the most out of your strategies.
1. Bid adjustments
Did you know that all devices, days of the week, time of day, and geographic locations perform differently?
Within Google Ads, you can run reports based on those metrics and see where it may make sense to increase or decrease bids depending on performance.
To see device performance, you can go to the devices tab and segment your campaigns or ad groups to see individual device performance.
You might find, for example, that mobile devices are driving conversions at a lower cost. If so, it would make sense to set a 20% positive bid adjustment on mobile devices for that specific campaign to get more volume.
However, it’s good to keep in mind that smart bidding strategies are very good at catching this automatically and changing your bids accordingly.
For a more detailed look at bid adjustments, learn about the 8 different types you can use (opens in a new tab).
2. Bidding rules
Google Ads allows you to set certain bidding rules that will pause, enable, and change bids and/or budgets depending on your chosen parameters.
Depending on your tab view within Google Ads, you can set rules at the campaign, ad group, ad, or keyword level.
As an example, you can create a rule to raise bids by a certain percentage if the average cost per conversion is below a certain target.
To create bidding rules, you can either go to “rules” under tools and settings, or you can select a campaign, adgroup or keyword and click “Edit” > “Create an automated rule.” From there you can select which type of rule you want to put in place.
3. Bidding scripts
Google Ads scripts allow you to automate your Google Ads activity according to specific time intervals and other available metrics.
Using scripts allows for greater customization beyond regular Google Ads rules, as you can get really creative with what you want to control. Like changing your bids based on weather patterns, for example.
Without getting too technical here, you can dive deeper into bidding and other scripts in this article (and get 14 of our favorites for free).
4. Bidding for sales, not conversions
A lot of people will look at a Google Ads account and work towards getting more conversions for the sake of conversions.
But that’s wrong.
Are you trying to generate leads or acquire users for your SaaS business? Then it’s extremely important to know that not all keywords are created equal.
If you’re not tracking which keywords are generating sales (again, not just leads), then you’ll treat all PPC traffic (opens in a new tab) as the same with an arbitrary cost per conversion goal.
Some keywords will have a higher sales rate than others.
When that happens, you should be okay bidding more aggressively for those keywords and be okay with a cost per conversion that’s higher than the account average.
This will help you close more deals and achieve more revenue, which should be your ultimate goal anyway.
And if you’re not sure which of your leads are resulting in sales on the Google Ads side, that sounds like a job for offline conversion tracking (opens in a new tab).
5. Seasonal trends
Depending on the time of year, your Google Ads performance will differ if you’re a seasonal business.
This means that your conversion rates could go down and your cost per conversion could go up.
The opposite could also happen, like say, during the holidays.
If your conversion rates may be much higher than they usually are, you have a reason to bid aggressively and capture as many conversions as possible. But after the holidays, when that performance doesn’t continue, your bids should reflect that change.
Keep this in mind as you’re looking at your account for yearly seasonal trends and deciding how to best position your bids to meet these needs.
6. Different keywords, different offers, different margins
Have you ever split tested (opens in a new tab) your landing page offers?
If so, then you know how much of a conversion increase (or decrease) you can expect. And when that happens, your sales/closing rates improve or worsen too.
Like average order values for eCommerce sites, different keywords bring in different margins and dollar values.
It’s important to stay away from a “blanket bid” mentality. Not all keywords should be held to the same bidding goals.
As you keep testing new offers, keep a close eye on what changes (like time to close, and sales/closing rates) after the initial lead is captured.
7. Bid bumping
Many people start out very conservatively with their bids when launching a new campaign.
But what if you did the opposite?
Bid bumping is a tactic that allows your keywords to maintain a high rank, even after you’ve lowered your bids.
It works by temporarily paying a higher CPC and getting a higher click-through-rate. By then slowly lowering your bids, you can find that your performance stays but your average CPC and conversion cost goes down.
8. RLSA competitor bidding
RLSA (opens in a new tab) competitor bidding is one of the 35+ different retargeting campaigns (opens in a new tab) I mentioned in a past post. It allows you to bid more aggressively for searches by visitors who have already been on your site or landing page.
By layering a remarketing audience onto an existing competitor search campaign, you can then add a bid adjustment to that remarketing audience–and that’s RLSA competitor bidding.
This means you can be much more aggressive and are more likely to convert a past visitor who’s familiar with your brand but has been shopping around.
9. Bidding on branded keywords
Seems like a no-brainer, right? But bidding on branded keywords does more for you than just being able to control your brand’s ad message (opens in a new tab).
In addition to sending branded visitors to a dedicated landing page (compared to a static homepage) (opens in a new tab), branded keywords can lead to an increase in overall account health and performance improvements for other keywords.
This doesn’t mean that you have to fiddle with changing bids at the branded keyword level. But it should be something you consider, even if you think you’re already getting organic clicks for “free.”
By now, you’ve learned all about how bidding works on Google Ads. You’ve also gotten really familiar with the various types of bidding strategies you can try, and what’s good and bad about each of them. Not to mention, you’ve now got some handy tips from us tucked in your back pocket that’ll make your bidding strategy selections even more effective.
After all this, it’s still important to mention that while bidding is a vital piece of the Google Ads puzzle, it’s far from the most effective type of SEM management (opens in a new tab) out there.
With wins from landing page testing (opens in a new tab) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) (opens in a new tab), you might find that your problems of bids being too competitive or expensive may disappear.
If you’re all ready to roll, the next question is:
Which strategy will you test first?