PPC

Google Smart Bidding: Will it change Paid Search?

Google’s Smart Bidding feature looks set to revolutionise how account managers optimise their paid search campaigns forever, and may just be the first step towards an AI takeover of the digital marketing world. But how exactly does it work, and what benefits might it bring to today’s digital marketers?

This article was co-authored by Catherine Meyrick and Juliana Faustino. 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are not new concepts in the vast world of digital marketing, but they have never been more pertinent than they are today. At the forefront of AI developments in Paid Search is Google, with numerous launches of features and products that can assist, and in some cases even potentially replace human input when it comes to managing Paid Search.

Where does that leave us, working day in and day out to make our Paid Search campaigns as successful as possible?

The answer is that we must adapt, evolve and fully embrace this new era in PPC advertising! Below, we break down the impact and implications that Smart Bidding might have on Paid Search. 

At Croud, we plan to:

“ Embrace the new world – big time” […] “Picture a team of marketing ‘robocops’ […] – The perfect combination of human and machine to deliver the strongest results”. 

– Luke Smith, Founder and CEO of Croud 

Robot hand reaching for a human hand

What is Smart Bidding?

One of the key automation products Google offer is Smart Bidding, but what exactly is it really?

Smart Bidding encompasses a range of automated bidding strategies that can assist advertisers in reaching their marketing goals – whether that’s a certain number of conversions, a revenue goal, or simply a target position. Smart Bidding strategies, like many other tactics that employ machine learning, analyse available data and learn as time goes on. This allows them to continuously adapt (more quickly and factoring in many more considerations than a human ever could) in order to obtain the best possible results against a set target.

There are several Smart Bidding strategies currently available from Google:

  • Target CPA
  • Target ROAS
  • Max Conversions
  • Enhanced CPC

By using a Smart Bidding strategy, Account Managers will benefit from a multitude of features that simple manual bid changes could never account for.

Google’s strategies incorporate a wide range of ‘contextual signals’. These extend beyond the obvious considerations such as device and location to include a host of other (unique to Google) “identifiable attributes about a person or their context at the time of a particular auction”.

Flexible controls then enable Account Managers to manipulate strategies depending on their clients’ unique business objectives.

The reporting tools on offer with Google Smart Bidding provide in-depth insight in real-time, allowing Account Managers to rapidly and effectively react to any event. Features include detailed bid strategy statuses, bid simulators (which enable forecasting the potential impact of a new CPA target), as well as clear alerts which contain detailed steps to help resolve any issues. Finally, a host of performance reports allows Account Managers to efficiently track the performance of their chosen bid strategy over time.

The Impact of Smart Bidding

Here at Croud, we’re leading the way in trialing these exciting new features Google has to offer, and already we’ve seen some amazing initial results.

We initially implemented both A/B and before & after testing of the most appropriate Smart Bidding tools across three key verticals; Retail, Finance (Insurance) and Information Services.  The tests ran for a minimum of 3 weeks to ensure a valid level of data was gathered.

The results from the tests were pretty conclusive:

  • Retail demonstrated the largest benefit from Smart Bidding, with a whopping 39% increase in conversions, combined with a strong 22% reduction in CPA.  This was likely as a result of the number of conversions in this vertical, giving the strategy more data to work with.
  • Information Services also demonstrated a strong response, with a 31% increase in Conversions and the biggest reduction in CPA at 25%.
  • The Finance vertical showed the smallest variance from using Smart Bidding, with a still not insignificant result of 18% increase in Conversions and a 10% reduction in CPA.  Again, this could be linked to a smaller amount of conversion data available from which to develop the strategy. Additionally, the vertical, in this case, Insurance is extremely competitive, so the gains are likely to be smaller.

Smart Bidding vs Manual Bidding: Results

Considerations

Smart Bidding places any account manager in a much better position to have the time and resource to plan strategically and meet the client’s individuals targets and needs.

Our initial results at Croud are extremely promising, and it is certainly an exciting time to be working in the Paid Search universe. However, as with any new feature, a certain level of safeguarding and expertise is essential to ensure we continue to deliver the very best results for our clients.

It is advisable to have separate bid strategies for each activity – ‘Brand’ campaigns will behave very differently to ‘Generic’ campaigns, for example. Once in place, it is essential to give the functionality the necessary time to learn and to spot trends in your data (this can take approximately two weeks, depending on the performance of the account). It is also worth bearing in mind that in order to get the most out of measurement, we should avoid moving the goalposts too often, and to set realistic objectives.

Smart bidding strategies do have certain limitations – they may not be suitable for smaller clients since a certain number of conversions are required for them to work. Equally, they may not suit clients’ whose monthly budget fluctuates on a regular basis. It is also advisable to revert to a manual bidding strategy during peak periods (such as Black Friday, for retail clients) to enable you to have total control.

Smart bidding strategies will need to be tested and retested across all different verticals, taking into account all KPIs, to ensure that they are the best option for each individual client.

As this new feature continues to develop, and with it, more evidence is produced, we can begin to truly understand how AI will transform the paid search space and empower us to continue driving the best possible results for our clients.

Conclusion

Smart Bidding has the potential to change not only how accounts are managed moving forward, but also the way we think about our clients’ wider business strategies.

Google’s’ advanced machine-learning technology, complex set of contextual auction-time signals, and unequaled optimization frequency and precision make Smart Bidding well worth considering if you’re looking for ways to boost performance in creative ways.

Naturally, as with any other new product, one size does not fit all and not all clients will be able to readily use the current feature as it is, but it is certainly a huge leap forwards in terms of automating some aspects of the management of accounts. The positive results we have seen certainly allow us to dream and hypothesise on ways we can use Smart Bidding to progress our current Paid Search strategy.

To conclude, our recommendation is to seriously consider adding Smart Bidding to your account management ‘arsenal’ and see the results for yourself!

This article was co-authored by Juliana Faustino and Catherine Meyrick, with a special thank you to the Croud PPC Teams for sharing their results and insight!