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How to Optimize Without Goals

Published: March 5, 2014

Author: Vim Chand

We’ve all been there, or will be there at some point: manage an account without any goals provided by the client.  The job many PPC marketers have is to optimize the account and make the client happy.  So how do we do this without goals?


#1 – Understand the Metrics

There are a bunch of stats you can use to optimize against: CPC, CTR, CPA, CVR, Impressions, Clicks, Cost, Conversions, Quality Score, Average Position.  Knowing how these relate to each other will determine what you do in the account.
In my experience, 90% of the time, the client wants to increase conversions and reduce CPA (increase sales, reduce cost).  So even without any real hard number goals, we know that these 2 metrics are what we are optimizing against.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to sell products for less than what they cost you.  So as long as your CPA is comfortably lower than the cost of the product, you’re doing something right.

 #2 – Understand What the Client Is Trying to Do

Make sure you get on client calls!  This is important for various reasons, but the biggest reason for you is to understand what the client wants.  Even if you never have to speak, just listening to the client talk will give you valuable insight on how to optimize.
Maybe this week/month/year they don’t care about being super-efficient; maybe they care more about having a presence or raising awareness.  Now you know that you need to increase impression volume, to basically get more eyeballs on your messaging. Your other metrics are still important, but at least now you know what you need to do.  We won’t get into budgets; that’s a separate issue. J

#3a – Look at Past Performance and Improve Upon It

If you’re taking over an account, you’ll have past performance to look at.  These are all benchmarks that you can try to beat.  So that’s where you start: CPA was $50 last month?  Ok, what can I do to lower it this month?  This leads right into…

#3b – Dive into Campaigns -> Ad Groups -> Keywords -> Ads

This is where most of your work will occur.  3Q has lots of articles where you can get specifics, but this is just a general overview.
First, look at your account-level data so that you know what the totals and the averages are.  Let’s say the account had 1million impressions last month, 200K clicks, $0.50 CPC, $100 CPA.  Because your CPAs, CPCs, CTRs, and CVRs are averages, you can quickly see which campaigns are above or below these averages.  And because your Impressions, clicks, conversions, and cost are totals, you can see the ones that contributed most to your data for the month.
Since most of the time we want to reduce CPA if nothing else is mentioned, then we’ll focus on this metric.  It’s much easier to drill down than work your way up.  First, look at your account CPA: let’s say its $100. Let’s say there are 2 campaigns, one with a CPA of $150 and the other a CPA of $50. We now know that the $150 one will need work.  Once we click into it, we can use the same process; which ad groups are causing the high CPA?  Once we identify them, we can click into them and find the keywords that contributed to the high CPA.
We always question whether we need certain campaigns, ad groups, or keywords because that is how we can optimize quickly.  If we don’t need them, then by simply pausing or even deleting them, we continuously improve/optimize the account.
But what if we need some of these keywords? Then we can bid them down so that they show up less and reduce our cost, and in turn our CPA.  Or if we need more volume, then we can bid up and get more volume.  But this will also increase cost and may also increase CPA.
Finally, we’ve done what we can down to the keyword level, but now we can go one step further: the ad level.  Check performance and either create new ads, or incrementally change some of the wording on the existing ads to gain advantages.
What if there isn’t any past performance?  In that case, make sure that everything in the account is working well.  Then incrementally check performance following the outline above.  This 3-part blog post is a good guide on the first month of an account.

#4 – Become More Efficient

Now that we have the basics of things to do, we can work on becoming more efficient.  AdWords has so many reports and tools that can help us continuously optimize.  We can apply negative keywords to our accounts, apply ad scheduling, target by geography, etc.  When looking through these reports, always look at where we are already efficient and bid down or pause the things that aren’t working.
You can also look at Google Trends to identify when an account should perform well or when it may suffer.  Without goals, this should help you understand what your account will do.

#5 – Ask for Goals

The last thing you can do after not having any goals: ask for them.  How many leads does the client want per month from PPC?  If you know the number, then you can estimate the cost and relay it to the client.  Is there a target CPA they want to hit?  If you still don’t get goals, making the account more efficient will be the right way to go.
Although it isn’t ideal to optimize campaigns without goals set by the client, there are many ways to optimize your campaigns anyway.  Getting on calls can give you valuable clues on things to do moving forward.   Finding ways on becoming more efficient is never a bad idea, so that can be your own personal goal.

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