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4 Common Manual Bidding Mistakes – and How to Fix Them

Published: June 30, 2014

Author: Caitlin Halpert

While we’d all love to rely on a killer bidding algorithm that’s flexible enough to meet our needs, the fact is we often have to rely on manual bidding. The problem with manual bidding done correctly is that it’s complicated and time-consuming. Here are some top mistakes to avoid and alternative methods to get the results you want.

Mistake #1 – Increasing bids in a campaign that’s hitting a budget cap

Never increase bids in a campaign that’s hitting a budget cap. Increasing bids on keywords that perform well in a budget-capped campaign will increase CPA because you will pay the same amount for fewer clicks. Instead, reduce bids on poor performers until you are no longer running up against the budget cap. Only then can you start to capitalize on your top performers and experiment with higher bids. With a really tight budget, you may even need to reduce bids on top performers to continue to lower CPA and improve efficiency to maximize conversions within the budget.

Mistake #2 – Changing bids on all keywords that meet certain performance criteria

Applying the same bid change, even as a percentage to multiple keywords, is tempting because it can be a huge time-saver. The problem is that it doesn’t take into account actual opportunity for improvement. Why raise bids on a top keyword with a 1.1 average position? Changes like this will just increase costs without increasing visibility or volume.
Instead, use your performance criteria as a filter and review individual keywords within the filter. Only increase bids on keywords with a low position. Use the difference between the Max CPC and the Average CPC from the time period reviewed to see how much of a bid change is necessary to move the needle. Consider how far the keyword CPA/ROAS is from the goal to inform the bid change. This way your optimizations will be more impactful, and you’ll better understand how performance and spend will change.

Mistake #3 – Reviewing top-20 spending keywords for last seven days 2x a week

This method is flawed for two reasons. First, the optimizations are limited to a small fraction of the keywords. The top-spending keywords are unlikely to change week to week, so if this is the only optimization you run, you’re probably missing a lot of opportunity. Second, since the date ranges overlap, by reviewing this data twice a week, you ensure that the data is murky, and your bid changes probably won’t have the impact you intend.
For example, if you raised the bids on a top-performing keyword on Tuesday, and round 2 bid optimizations for the week come around on Thursday, you’ll be looking at 5 days of pre-change data so you’ll likely (and incorrectly) increase the bid again.

Mistake #4 – Reviewing only the top 2-3 campaigns by spend one at a time

By starting at the campaign level instead of the keyword level, your view is skewed. Top spending campaigns don’t necessarily contain top-spending or top-performing keywords. Instead of ignoring the lower-spend campaigns, review all the keywords in an account at once. If your account has multiple campaign types with different goals, use saved filters to review each segment wholly and independently.

Bonus tips!

Here are a few other ideas to help improve your bidding technique:

1. Periodically look at different time ranges. Every couple of weeks, look at a longer window to review performance on low-volume keywords that don’t make the cut on a daily/weekly basis.
2. Sort keywords by conversion or revenue volume (not just spend) to find underappreciated keywords.
3. Always uncap your budgets and use bids to control spend.

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