What’s Working In Adwords In 2013

Adwords is constantly evolving (often for the worse), so here’s a brief 10-point “State of the Nation” summary of some of what’s going on in March 2013…

#1: Adwords is now more important than SEO – a study done by Wordstream last July showed that, on Google, paid listings account for 64.6% of clicks for highly commercial search terms. Only 35.4% of clicks went to non-paid listings.

Obviously, as an advertiser, it’s the commercial search terms that interest you. So, thanks to all the layout changes by Google, Adwords is now producing more traffic than SEO.

#2: The rich are getting richer – clickrates for text ads on the left are around 20 times higher than for text ads on the right. That means the top 3 advertisers in a market are getting almost 90% of the clicks… while the rest of the advertisers are living off scraps.

#3: Don’t expect your adwords optimisation to do the heavy lifting – becoming a top 3 advertiser is down to a combination of a well set-up and managed PPC account + a website that does a great job of turning visitors into money.

In competitive markets, top 3 advertisers will have well-managed adwords accounts. It’s very unlikely you’ll beat them with just effective PPC management. In order to compete with them (gain an advantage), you need to work on your website conversion, your offers, your follow up, repeat sales… everything that increases the value of a web visitor and, thus, allows you to bid higher.

#4: Try Product listing ads – this is one of the best additions to Adwords in recent years (even before it took over the google shopping listings). If you’re selling physical products, this can generate a lot of sales. Check it out here: http://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2454022?hl=en

#5: Meta keywords matter google may ignore the meta keyword tag for SEO, but they use it for Adwords. It’s one of the areas of a landing page Adwords pays attention to in order to figure out what the page is about – and whether it’s relevant.

Having meta keywords that are closely related to your keywords in Adwords can make your landing page seem more relevant – which means higher quality scores… which means cheaper clicks and more traffic.

(Note: sometimes this helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Adding them seems to make a difference when google is unsure what the page is about.)

#6: Lower case usually beats upper case - standard adwords wisdom says capitalising each word will increase ctr – e.g. “Call Now For A Free Quote”. However, my testing in multiple markets over the last year has shown that lower case is now usually better (e.g. “Call now for a free quote.”). Test this with your own ads and see if it’s true for you, too.

#7: Long headlines are usually best –  you will probably have noticed ads on the left have longer headlines. Adwords does this by either adding the first line of the body copy to the ad, or by adding the domain. Here are the first 3 headlines from a search for “HD televisions”:

“Sky TV – Official Site – Get Sky TV, Broadband & Calls.”
“Best Television Deals – Reserve Online & Collect In Store.”
“75% OFF LCD LED 3D TVs – electronicworldtv.co.uk”

The first two ads are using the first line of body copy. This happens when the first line of text ends with a full stop, exclamation point, or question mark.

The 3rd ad isn’t doing this, so the domain name is used to pad out the headline instead.

My tests show that clickrates are usually significantly higher when the line of text is used (as long as your ads are showing on the left, of course). So, if you’re not doing this already, test your current ads against versions where the first line ends with punctuation.

#8: Try Remarketing – along with product ads, this has been the most useful addition to Adwords in the last couple of years. It allows you to advertise (via the display network) to just people who have already visited your site.

It can be hit or miss, but it’s worth testing as the cost per conversion is often  much lower than normal search ads. (Partly because clicks are cheaper, partly because previous visitors are better prospects.)

#9: Say “nein” to nine – I’ve done extensive testing of different price points – e.g. £95 v £97 v £99 v £100. Fives and zeros tend to do well. Sevens have always lost badly (which runs 100% contrary to advice given by ad gurus in America). Nines have usually lost badly, too.

So, if you have a price in your ad that ends in a “9”, try rounding up to either the next highest pound. So, for example, if you’re selling something for £49, try either £50 or £49.95. (Based on my testing, the “5” at the end of “£49.95” seems to make the “9” work fine.)

#10: Don’t include close variants – last year, Adwords changed phrase and exact match keywords to “Include plurals, misspellings and other close variants” as standard.

Having seen the results of this, it’s really just another form of broad matching. While I think broad match keywords have their time and place, they should be added as broad match keywords, not dirtying up your data (and messing up your ad group structures) by being included in phrase and exact matches.

If you go into your campaign settings and scroll down to “Keyword matching options”, you can turn this off.


This short list can’t fully cover best practices in Adwords, but it’s a start.

Hopefully, it’ll have given you at least one idea you can use to make your Adwords campaign more profitable.

Best wishes,

Steve Gibson