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A step-by-step guide to Google Ads optimization

Before you launch your ad campaign, consider this 14 point PPC optimization checklist to help you transform clicks into conversions. These tips will help you look for ways to optimize your Google Ads pay-per-click advertising campaign and put you on the road to digital success.

1. Choose the appropriate location, day and time to run your campaign.

This tip may seem obvious to most people. Yet, it is where huge mistakes can occur. When selecting a target location remember to exclude other locations with the same city name. For example, if you are targeting Paris, TX, you would exclude Paris, TN and Paris, KY from the list. Otherwise, you would be sending your client’s ads to an unintended audience.

Day and time are equally important. Setting the day or time incorrectly can destroy the client’s budget. A behavioral health hospital should not run substance abuse treatment ads overnight. A better time setting would be during daylight hours. The key is understanding where and when to approach the customer. Always double-check the location, day and time before running your campaign.

2. Pick the right campaign type.

There are two campaign types: display and search. The display network shows graphic-based ads on blogs, websites and other third-party sites. While the search network lists text-based ads on the search engine results page. Keep your search and display campaigns separate! This will help in the account reporting process and makes it easier in the long run. Remember, water and oil do not mix.

3. Use the right match type.

Choosing the right match type determines how much freedom you give Google Ads in serving your keywords. There are three match types: exact, broad and phrase. 

Exact match

With exact match Google will try to match your intent, so it is not exact anymore. For example, [shoes for men] will show you men shoes in the results. However, it could show you ads for [shoes men], [men shoes] or [shoes for a man]. Exact match gives relevant results, but the volume just is not there. People generally do not do exact match searches.

Broad match

Broad match is way more relaxed. It will throw all types of crazy search results with your keyword. It is like a word salad on steroids. Take the word dentists for example. With broad match it could return where do dentists work, do horses have dentists and dentists salary in Norway. Broad match is total destruction to a search engine marketing campaign. Stay away from this one unless you absolutely need results.

Phrase match

Phrase match is more lenient than exact match. It is less restrictive and it will allow words to be added at the end of the phrase. For example, you are running an ad using the phrase “dentists near me”. Users may search “dentists near me accepts medicaid”, “dentist near me no insurance” and “dentist near me cheap” all of these phrases could show your ad in the search engine results page. The weakness of phrase match is words typed out of order are not recognized in the search results. Nevertheless, Google wants the exact phrase.

Important note:

Google retired the Broad Match Modified match type in February 2021. You can read more about it at WordStream. The new Phrase Match is a combination of the old Phrase match and Broad Match Modified. Essentially, the new phrase match gives Google more control by giving more results that may not be relevant; therefore, generating Google more money.

4. Look at the search terms report.

The search terms report lets you see what users are searching for when they click on your ad in their searches. Most search engine marketers fail to realize the search terms report is your friend. Not only can you add keywords, but also you can remove keywords from the ad campaign. I will talk more about negative keywords later. The search terms report can make a huge impact on your ad campaign.

5. Turn off automated bidding.

Google insists on using automated bidding that benefits their bottom line, not your client. Google’s algorithm serves your ads to users it thinks will convert. In essence, they send your ads out to users to get clicks. There is a tremendous difference between a prospective convert and an actual convert. When you start a new campaign with no data to work from, you should use manual CPC. 

6. Account organization structure is key to account management.

The key to a successful ad campaign is organizational structure. It is simple and easy if you start the habit of doing it. However, your account structure should start at the campaign level, then ad groups and finally your keywords. Running an account with all keywords in one ad group is a recipe for disaster. Using proper account organization makes it easy to manage and report your findings.

Account Organization Structure
Excel document showing proper account organization structure.

7. Remember landing page and ad quality score.

Your site and the ad account should both be organized correctly. Google’s ad rate formula factors landing page user experience and ad relevancy. This formula helps determine how much your client pays for an ad. Another key point is to have the business name, address and phone number listed prominently on the landing page. A high-quality score equals a lower price Google charges for your ad.

8. Use negative keywords.

As referenced in the fourth tip, negative keywords are words you do not want in your ad campaign. Using the negative keywords list will keep bad searches out of your Google Ads account. Keywords such as free, videos, career, tutorials and how-to are negative keywords. You can set negative keywords at the campaign and ad group levels. Also, be sure to choose your negative keywords carefully or your ads may reach fewer eyes.

9. Remember ad positioning.

In ad positioning, there are two positions to remember. Absolute top and top. Absolute top places your ad above the organic search results. It is the first entry on the search engine results page. Absolute top has two major downfalls. It is expensive and it receives many clicks from uninterested users. Top is where your ad is above the organic search results, but it is not the first entry. 

Ad Positioning
SERP showing the difference between ad positioning positions.

10. Pay attention to mobile devices.

Globally, 68.1% of all website visits came from a mobile device in 2020. Generally, clicks from a mobile device cost less than desktop clicks. Depending on your audience a mobile device may outperform a desktop or vice versa. With Google Ads, you can place different bid amounts for these devices. Furthermore, each device is different, so monitoring the ad account is important for optimization.

11. Choose the correct location targeting.

With location targeting, you have three options to choose from in Google Ads. Choose wisely or you might send ads to users who do not convert. Below are the three options Google uses for location targeting.

People in, regularly in, or who have shown interest in your targeted locations

This option sends your ads everywhere. For example, a user sitting in an office in Dallas, TX can search for “Charlotte Window Repair”. They can get your Charlotte, NC window repair ad in their search results. It allows you to target anyone, anywhere as long as they type the local keyword.

People in or regularly in your targeted locations

By far this is the most straightforward option. As it suggests, it only targets users in the location you choose. The targeting uses geo-location to send your ad to users within a specific radius. Therefore, it sends your ad to local folks only.

People searching for, or who show interest in my target location

This is an excellent choice for destination businesses such as hotels, resorts and casinos. It targets users who are searching for your chosen keyword for your targeted location. Take, for example, a user in California who is planning for a vacation in Williamsburg, VA. If they search for “hotel Williamsburg, VA”, they will see an ad for a two night’s stay at Colonial Williamsburg Resort.

12. Do not forget retargeting.

Generally, two percent of web traffic converts on the first visit for most websites Retargeting is an excellent tool to show graphic-based ads specifically to users who failed to convert. These ads are shown on display networks such as Google Display Network, Microsoft Audience Network, Facebook and Instagram. Coupons, discounts and other incentives used in display ads can help increase your conversion rate. Creating a retargeting ad campaign can increase your chance of success in your digital strategy.

13. Use A/B testing or split testing and have good ad copy.

Do not forget to use A/B testing in your ad copy and landing page. A/B testing is a method of version control. This testing method compares small, single changes between different versions to determine which one performs the best. With your landing page, the A/B testing could be a graphic color change, different images or a slight change in copy. While the text-based ad would only have slight word changes. In Google Ads the ‘Experiments’ section is where you create your ad versions.

Split-testing is a method where your versions are completely different. Yet, each version is being compared with one another to see which is the best. Think of the difference between night and day. In essence, this is how split-testing works. Two or more versions with different ad copy and landing pages. With A/B testing and split-testing, you can see which version has better performance, conversions and bounce rates in your campaign. 

14. Remember to use ad extensions to increase click-through rate (CTR).

According to Google there is a 10-15% increase in click-through rates using ad extensions. These extensions give your ad an extra boost. Also, they convey more information about your client’s business in the ad. You can include ad extensions such as site link, callout, call, app, structured snippet, lead form, price and promotions in your ad campaign. These extensions will not only increase your ad’s visibility, but also they will make it more engaging for users.


In conclusion, even with the best PPC ad campaign, there is always room for improvement. No digital strategy is perfect either. This PPC optimization checklist will help you look for ways to improve your Google Ads campaign. However, many of these fundamental points could equally apply to other advertising campaigns.

Take, for example, you are running a display ad campaign. Fundamentals such as location targeting, choosing the right location, day and time, automated bidding and account organization structure work in the same way. While the points covered here relate to PPC ad campaigns, many of these basic principles work for display ad campaigns as well.