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The Art of Winning on AdWords - Lessons from Moneyball

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As described in Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball”, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane fielded the winningest team in baseball while spending half as much on player salaries as their nearest rival, the New York Yankees. Beane achieved this feat by slicing and dicing huge quantities of baseball statistics so he could find wisdom where others just heard noise.

He won games by fiercely playing the percentages: where to position the outfielders; when to bunt; when to replace the starting pitcher with a relief pitcher; and a thousand other situations. By having data at his fingertips and understanding how to interpret and act on it, he found an advantage in every encounter.

If you advertise on AdWords, you may find yourself in a similar situation to Billy Beane, facing unfair competition with much deeper pockets than yours. Luckily, AdWords and baseball are similar in that, in Lewis’s words, it “matters less how much money you have than how well you spend it.”

Campaign cloning is the AdWords equivalent of “Moneyball.” By approaching the data as granularly as possible, you’ll discover lots of opportunities to optimize your account that you simply couldn’t have seen by staring at aggregate statistics. You’ll bid more intelligently, achieve greater margins, and turn each small advantage into better ad positions and more traffic. The result: you’ll see and act on otherwise invisible opportunities.

How to Clone in 60 Seconds or Less

Before we get into a few cloning applications, let’s visit the free desktop AdWords Editor program so you can see how simple it is to clone a campaign. For this example, we’ll look at a basic slice and dice best practice: funneling search and display network traffic into separate campaigns.

Let’s take a search network campaign and clone it for the display network.

In AdWords Editor, click the campaigns tab to show all the campaigns in your account. Select the campaign you want to clone from the list, and right-click (or control- or command-click) and choose “Copy” from the contextual menu.

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You’ll see two copies of the campaign.

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Now it’s time to rename one of them and change the network settings. Click the name of one of the duplicated campaigns and change the name:

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Click the new campaign row to bring up the properties window below the campaign list. Now it’s time to change the settings for the clone. In this case, set search network to “None” and display network to “Relevant pages across the entire network.”

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Finally, post the selected changes to your account. When you next log into AdWords, you’ll see the new campaign, a complete mirror of the existing one, except that the new campaign targets the display network only, while the original campaign targets search.

The entire process should take about 30 seconds from start to finish.

Strategic Uses of Cloning

So now that you see how simply you can clone an account, let’s talk about when you want to use this powerful strategy. The first requirement is enough traffic to justify splitting your traffic into multiple campaigns. Each campaign generates its own metrics, so if your single campaign receives so little traffic you can’t declare split test winners and set accurate keyword bids, it makes no sense to divide that traffic in half.

But assuming your campaign generates sufficient traffic, or you want to expand into a new traffic stream not covered by your current campaign (moving into mobile devices, or a different country, for example), here are some cases where campaign cloning makes sense:

1. Separating Traffic by Network

Search traffic resembles the Yellow Pages: people have a current need and are looking to fill it. Display traffic, on the other hand, consists of people who were interrupted by your ad while they were doing something else. If you use the same ads and offers in both networks, at least one of them is severely under-optimized.

2. Separating Search Traffic by Match Type

Exact, phrase, and broad match keywords typically perform very differently from each other. Exact match keywords generally achieve the highest value per conversion, since you can specify exactly which searches trigger your ads. Broad match keyword, on the other hand, represent a wide variety of searches, most of which will not closely match the ad. By creating different campaigns by match type, you can easily spot trends and differences.

Here’s some typical data highlighting the difference between exact, phrase, and broad match keywords. Assuming a threshold cost/conversion of $10, if these three match types were combined in a single campaign, the entire campaign would appear to be ROI-negative (with an average cost/conversion of roughly $19). Broken out, however, you can clearly see that exact match is highly profitable, while phrase match loses a couple of dollars for each conversion, while broad match is just bleeding money.

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3. Separating Display Traffic by Ad Type

Text and image ads in the display network typically perform very differently from each other, so it’s useful to watch them in separate campaigns. In this case, you don’t need to change settings in Editor. Simply clone the campaign and upload text ads to one campaign and image ads to the other.

4. Separating Traffic by Device

In Editor, you can create campaigns that target computers, tablets, and smart phones, respectively:

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Research that I shared last month in Search Engine Watch shows that tablet, smartphone, and computer users behave differently when searching. Also, many websites are not optimized for smaller screens, and should not be buying smartphone traffic from Google for those sites.

5. Separating Traffic by Country or Region

U.S., Canada, UK, and Australia traffic often respond quite differently to ad text and offers. Separating this traffic (which you can do easily in Editor) allows you to optimize messaging and bidding for each country.

Within a single country, it’s often worthwhile to show different messages to different regions. For example, a national tutoring company with branches in most states might target each relevant state with an ad headline like, “[State Abbreviation] tutoring center.” Click-through rates will be much higher because of increased relevancy to the local searcher.

6. Separating Traffic by Gender

In the display network, you can tell Google to show your ads predominantly to men or women. Clone the campaign using Editor, then go into the campaign settings in the online AdWords dashboard and scroll to Demographic Bidding. Click the “Edit” button and you’ll see the following screen:

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Exclude males from one campaign and females from the other. You may be surprised at the differences in search behavior that can affect the value of a click. With each gender assigned to its own campaign, you can easily set bids and write ads that are appropriate in each case, but would have been sub-optimized had both genders been lumped together.

7. Day Parting

In a previous Search Engine Watch article, I described an advanced form of day parting that combines ad scheduling with geotargeting, so that each campaign addresses a different time zone. Use Editor for geotargeting and online AdWords for ad scheduling.

Go Forth and Clone

This list of campaign cloning applications isn’t meant to be exhaustive. The complete list may be limited only by your traffic and your imagination. While it took Major League Baseball a couple of decades to see the value of nerds with laptops, your marketing department should be clamoring for AdWords management that takes advantage of the wealth of data that Google provides for free.

And campaign cloning is one of the best ways to see the obvious truths that hide in aggregated statistics yet shyly reveal themselves when you apply “Moneyball” scrutiny to your account.


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