Tips for improving CTR in a Google Grants campaign

Thursday, January 22, 2009 | 8:23 AM

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As a Google Grants volunteer, I recently participated in a project to improve the usability of AdWords by building and managing an AdWords account from a grantee's perspective. I volunteered to take one Google Grants advertiser, Prospect 1. New Orleans, to temporarily act as its Account Manager. To make sure I got an authentic experience, I didn’t use any Google internal tools and only used the publicly available AdWords tools.

Day 1. When I first started, I carefully examined the grantee's website to understand the organization's mission and what their targeted audience might be.

They were promoting art and events in the New Orleans area, which gave me a place to begin building their account. I created a campaign with a single ad group, a single creative, and a few keywords. It wasn't anything fancy, but let’s see what happens.

Day 2. I let the ads run for a day and then checked the results. I quickly learned that the keyword “new orleans” drew the most traffic. However it also had the lowest CTR since the keyword was too broad. That significantly brought down my overall CTR, which was in the range of 0.5%. That was clearly not good.

I also noticed that my highest CTR keyword was “prospect new orleans”, which made sense because it was a highly targeted term for the organization. However if you search this query, you’ll see that the top search result is also my client’s homepage. So from a Google user’s perspective, my ad was competing with my own site. You might think that’s okay as long as users are coming to my site, either through search results or ads, right? Not always. The key is, there are other popular queries for which your site might not be the top search result, and you need to try to make sure your ad is top ad result even for those queries.

So what could I do to improve my chance of being top ad for all possible queries? I tried to promote my ad to be above my search result (as opposed to on the right hand side of my search result) by pausing my highest impression keyword, “new orleans”.

Day 3. Things got much better. My ad was now above the search results; my spending was picking up; my daily average CTR jumped from 0.5% to 3%. I then did a few more keyword adjustments, but for the most part, I didn’t change too much.

Day 4. I created a new text ad and included the text of “The official site” in my ad. That gave me a much better CTR and my daily CTR continued to rise to 10%.

Day 5+. I didn’t make any further changes since my campaign was running like a well-oiled machine. I spent about 15 minutes each day checking performance and pausing those keywords with significantly lower CTR. As a result, my daily CTR continued to rise every day and it got to 30% by the end of the experiment. During the entire course of the time I was optimizing the account, my overall CTR was an unheard of 20%.

So through my experience, here are a few strategies I’d suggest if you're looking to improve your account's performance. Please keep in mind that these strategies won't work for everyone, or result in the same performance, but with customization these strategies can be useful for improving your experience with Google AdWords and Google Grants.

Tip #1: Iterate often in the beginning. Letting a bad ad run longer means it will take you longer to recover your campaign's performance.

Tip #2: Try to beat your own site in search. If your site appears in search result on the left, and at the same time in ads on the right, chances are people will click the search result more often than the ad itself, hurting your overall campaign performance.

Tip #3: In the beginning, focus on CTR rather than gaining traffic. Cutting off your popular, but low-CTR keywords in the beginning might help you in the long run.

Tip #4: Using a phrase like “official site” in the creative will gain extra eyeballs for you. Hey, check the title of this post. Did I gain your eyeballs?

Finally, in case you want to know what happened to this grantee, I have returned its control back to the organization. As I was writing this blog, the ad I created was still the top ad on this page.

Posted by Yunkai, Google Grants Volunteer