How to Plan a Successful PPC Campaign in 2018

We at SEMrush continuously monitor Google’s updates, as the search engine rarely stands still. While testing the updates that are most likely to impact advertisers, we have come to the conclusion that Google is moving in the direction of “autopiloted” campaigns. The message is clear, the more you delegate to Google Ads’ artificial mind – bids, placements, banner sizes, etc. – the more benefit you and your customers will get from the campaign.

However, it will still be up to you to determine your audience, so it is important to be clear on who your customers are, which search terms they use to describe their query, and which visuals engage and trigger them. This initial input consisting of keywords, ad text, visuals and dozens of other aspects, must be as specific as possible.

We have figured out the most important factors that will help increase the efficiency of your Google Ads campaigns in 2018, and we also explored some ways you can benefit from them.

Ad Copy: Provide a Variety of Ads to Choose From

These days you are required to give Google freedom of choice when it comes to ad creatives. When you provide several ad variations for the same keyword set (at least three variations are recommended now), it helps ensure the best user experience.

This is easier said than done; just think of the work required to write three ads for each of your 100 ad groups. However, we have some tips to make things easier.

Reimagine Your Current Ads

The easiest way to start, look at your existing ads and modify them. When it comes to ad copy, there is always something to improve and/or a different variable to test.

We recommend experimenting with unique selling propositions (USP). For example, if you were promoting an SEO tool, your USPs could be a free trial, the number of keywords in the database, SEO awards received, etc. Once you know what your USPs will be, it is time to figure out which one works best for your online audience.

You can always continue to tweak your ads. Experiment with changing verbs in your CTA (“try” vs. “discover”?). Play with representations of numbers (1M vs. 1,000,000?). Try including and excluding your brand name (“Site Audit” vs. “SEMrush Site Audit”?). Sometimes these tiny changes can noticeably improve your CTR.

We have increased our CTR by 30% by changing just one letter in all of our UK Google Ads campaigns. It was as simple as paying full respect to British spelling traditions; we replaced the American “Z” with the British “S” in verbs like “analyze” and “optimize”. Brits have indeed appreciated the tiny change.

Grab New Ideas From Competitors

The techniques listed above help expand your ad set, but only to a certain extent. Sooner or later, everyone runs out of inspiration. So the next step, borrow ideas from your competitors. Let’s take a look at how you can easily find and analyze hundreds of ads from your niche, all in a couple of clicks.

Use the new SEMrush Ad Builder tool for this. It helps you find ideas:

  • By keyword (Example: you sell bikes and want to see some ad examples of other bike shops).

  • By domain (Example: you know a competitor’s domain that sells bikes, and you want to explore their ads).

SEMrush Ads Builder

If there is an ad you liked and you want to save it as a template, hit the ‘Use as template’ icon and fill in the “New Ad” pop-up box:

SEMrush Ads Builder - Ad editor

Here you can tweak ad copy making sure you stay within the character limits (1), get additional ideas for ads (2), get an instant ad preview (3) and, finally, assign the newly created ad to a determined campaign and ad group (4).

It is that simple. Lather, rinse and repeat until you are satisfied with the number of ad creatives you have collected.

Note: Check and make sure you have enabled “Ad rotation” in your Google Ads account settings. Otherwise, all your efforts could end up being a waste of time.

Ad Formats: Use Ad Extensions

Ad extensions are a type of format that provides extra information about your product or service. Your ad gets “extended” and becomes more visible on the search results page. Sometimes you can hit the jackpot and occupy almost all the space above the fold:

Ad extensions example

Ad extensions positively influence click rate, and they help users get necessary information faster. Also, based on our experience, they contribute to raising quality score and reducing CPC.

The extension types that benefit your ad most are:

Ad extensions: sitelinks, callouts, featured snippets

  • Sitelinks (1)

  • Callouts (2)

  • Structured Snippets (3)

Ad extensions: call extension

Note: Up to three ad extensions can be displayed at once. If you add more, it will be up to Google to decide which three to choose.

With the extensions feature in the Ad Builder, you can create extensions for your ad campaigns right in the tool. Currently, there are four extension types available for creation in Ad Builder, including the aforementioned types.

Once you create a campaign in Ad Builder, go to the “Extension” tab and click the “New Extension” button. From the drop-down list, you can choose the type of extension you want to create. You can either add extensions manually or import pre-existing extensions from a file.

SEMrush Ad Builder: New Extension

Keyword Research: Clean Up Negative Keywords

Handling negative keywords has always been a challenge, but as of late, it is being watched with even more caution. There are two problems when it comes to negative keywords:

  1. You are using them where you shouldn’t be (and losing traffic).
  2. You aren’t using them where you should be (and losing money).

The first case is quite simple yet happens often. So for example, you have not sold tandem bikes for years (and had the word “tandem” in a negative list), then you started to sell them again. But your PPC specialist forgot to remove the word from negatives, and now you are left wondering why you are not getting any traffic for this keyword. To avoid this situation, check your negative keyword lists regularly and bring the relevant keywords back to life.

The second problem is much more challenging, but it is important to deal with because it can be a way to noticeably reduce your CPC.

Let’s say you sell downhill bikes, tandem bikes, BMX bikes and so on, and use keywords with broad or modified broad match in your campaigns. This is what your keywords and ads may look like:

Cross-group negatives: example

When a user types in “downhill mountain bike”, Google will look for relevant ads to display and find only two of your ads matching the query.

Cross-group negatives - an example

This can cause your ads to start competing against each other, making the competition level and the CPC grow.

The solution will be to add the words causing this unnecessary competition to the negative keyword list:

Cross-group negatives - an example

However, adding keywords manually will only work for relatively small keyword lists. Imagine you have dozens of product categories; there can be hundreds of intersections.

Inside our PPC Keyword tool, we have a handy feature that allows you to bring to light the conflicting keywords and add them to the negative list in one click.

Device Targeting: Integrate Mobile to Your Campaigns

According to Google’s studies, 69% of smartphone owners turn to mobile search first in the moment of need, 76% of those searching for something nearby visit a related business within a day and, finally, 28% of these searches result in a purchase.

Given these impressive stats, mobile campaigns are now considered an important factor for evaluating the overall quality of advertisers’ Google Ads accounts. For PPC specialists this means new opportunities, but also new challenges. Mobile users are different, and should not be treated as the desktop users. 

Apart from the evident need to have a fast and mobile-friendly website in 2018, there are two important things to do, if you want to win the mobile ad race:

1. Conduct Mobile-Specific Keyword Research

Many search terms are not equally popular on desktop and mobile. Their CPC may differ as well.

Mobile and desktop keyword volumes may differ a lotSource: SEMrush Keyword Analytics report

So, if you want your mobile campaigns to bring you meaningful results, mobile-specific keyword research is essential. A great deal of keyword research (finding related keywords and long-tail keywords, analyzing CPC and seasonal trends, etc.) can be done in SEMrush both for desktop and mobile.

SEMrush mobile and desktop keyword research

We have added mobile analytics data for 17 countries (including the UK, Canada, Australia and non-English speaking countries) to our tools, so if you target customers outside the US, this update is for you. 

2. Adapt Your Ad Copy to Micro-Moments

The term “Wine bar” searched from desktop can mean someone is making plans for next Friday night. But, “Wine bar” searched from mobile (especially on a Friday night) is different; a person is much more likely to be ready for a party and searching for a place to go to immediately.

These “intent-rich” searches from mobile devices are called “micro-moments” and, according to Google, can be divided into four categories:

Source: thinkwithgoogle.com

In micro-moments, time, screen space, and (often) speed of the Internet are limited. People want you to fulfill their needs without delay; this is what you need to express in your ad copy. Be very specific and deliver value explicitly when it comes to your mobile audience. Example:

Mobile-specific ad copy

3. Get Mobile Friendly by Using AMP for Google Ads

To improve your mobile PPC performance, you need to make sure that your ads provide a fast, predictable, and smooth user experience. 

A great way to make your website mobile friendly is to implement AMP for your site. Previously it was mainly used by publishers; today it is also a platform for e-commerce and advertising. Since autumn 2017, advertisers can implement AMP for their Google Ads landing pages, making them faster. Building AMP pages for your advertising campaigns can have a positive impact on conversion rates, time on page, bounce rates, and more.

However, as the AMP format involves code restrictions and usage of custom tags, AMP mistakes are quite common.

To discover the most frequent AMP errors and help site owners and webmasters prioritize their efforts, SEMrush conducted some research. With the help of our Site Audit tool, we checked and analyzed the sites of the top 300 publishers in 8 countries. The data collected helped us create a list of the 10 most common AMP mistakes. 

Top 10 AMP Implementation Mistakes

In the Site Audit tool, you can get a list of errors for each of your pages, along with descriptions and tips for fixing them. The tool detects various issues related to AMP, including HTML errors, layout issues, and templating mistakes.

SEMrush Site Audit: AMP Mistakes

A Recap on How to Make Your Google Ads Campaign a Success

A quality ad account in 2018, according to Google, is an “autopiloted” account; the more options that are delegated to Google Ads, the better. However, even if Google is now able to decide on its own which banner size will fit best on a particular website, it is still your responsibility to provide catchy text, relevant images, and the right keywords.

On-point ad copy is a necessary attribute of a high-quality account. Make it device-specific and provide at least three ad variations for every ad group. By the way, if you are still targeting hundreds of keywords with the same ad, it is time to give that strategy up.

Enable ad extensions (at least three) to as many ads as possible. There is no way that these can harm you. With extensions, you will be able to occupy more space above the fold, help users get the info they need faster, and potentially earn some extra points when the quality of your Google Ads account is assessed.

The devil is in the negative keywords. Make sure your negative keyword list does two important things: 1. prevents your ads from conflicting with each other and 2. doesn’t block your ads from coming up for relevant search terms. 

Mobile campaigns are one more aspect to focus on. To benefit from the opportunities provided by mobile campaigns, make sure to adapt your ad copy to micro-moments, target your local customers, explore how popular your target keywords are among mobile users, compare the CPC of keywords on desktop and mobile, and AMP your landing pages.


Whether you’re creating a PPC campaign from scratch or looking to improve an existing one, you should take a holistic approach. SEMrush PPC toolkit is a one stop shop for preparing successful AdWords campaigns: from comprehensive keyword research to creating an effective ad copy and responsive ads. Discover the combination of powerful competitive research tools and handy keyword & ad…


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