AdWords Flexible Bid Strategies: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

stretch-armstrongThis is a big year for changes at Google AdWords. Front and center is the pending rollover to enhanced campaigns. Along with the enhanced upgrade has come enhanced sitelinks, enhanced call extensions and new (and useful) bid multipliers. Another new feature is called flexible bid strategies.

To define, you have to break down the name. "Bid strategies" – also known as rules. And then the word "flexible." Is that flexible like Stretch Armstrong? Nope. It is flexible as in you can reuse the same strategy across multiple campaigns, ad groups or keywords.

At first blush this seems interesting, maybe even useful – but far from perfect.

What Are Flexible Bid Strategies?

Flexible bid strategies are rules set to optimize bids around a specified goal at the campaign, ad group or keyword level. There are four strategies:

  • Maximize Clicks: This strategy will adjust bids to get the most clicks within a given budget. Just like automatic bidding used to (and still does for many). This can be set for campaigns (governing all ad groups), specific ad groups, or specific keywords.
  • Target Search Page Location: This strategy will adjust bids to help you achieve a desired average position. Sound familiar? Yeah, this is almost position preference back from the dead. This can be set for campaigns (governing all ad groups), specific ad groups or specific keywords.
  • Target Cost-per-Acquisition (CPA): Bids are adjusted to get the most conversions possible within your CPA goal. Yes – this is the exact same thing as conversion optimizer. And it is still on applicable at the campaign or ad group level.
  • Enhanced Cost-per-Click (eCPC): While still using manual CPCs, your bid can be adjusted up or down to based on the likelihood of conversion. Yes – this is the exact same thing as enhanced cost-per-click (eCPC) that is already available.

What's the Big Deal?

As you may have noted, only one of these new flexible bid strategies is actually somewhat new. What Google has done is consolidated the management of these "strategies" at the account level so that a strategy can be used and reused across multiple campaigns, ad groups, and keywords.

Is this a revolution in bidding for your AdWords campaigns? Simply put: No.

How Do You Set Flexible Bid Strategies?

Many advertisers have heard about these new bid types and logged into their campaigns – only to be stumped at how to set them up. Unlike any bidding functionality that has come before, flexible bid strategies live in the AdWords Shared Library. Start there – then find the Bid Strategies link:

google-adwords-shared-library-bid-strategies

After clicking through, you will be presented with a big green button to create a "New Bid Strategy":

google-adwords-new-bid-strategy

Choose from the four types and follow the instructions that are specific and unique to each bid strategy. Once you have bid strategies created and living in your Shared Library – you can begin to implement at the campaign, ad group or keyword level (CPA and eCPC are not available at keyword level):

google-adwords-implement

Are There Any Problems with Flexible Bid Strategies?

Yes.

  • Flexible bid strategies aren't supported in AdWords Editor. Then again, what new feature is these days?
  • Any keyword, ad group or campaign with an applied bid strategy won't be able to be edited in AdWords Editor.
  • With flexible bid strategies, target CPA bidding is now tied down to a specific strategy. This means that cannot simply go through and make ad group level CPA bid adjustments (as you can with conversion optimizer). Any adjustments involve switching to a different target CPA bid strategy – or more frustratingly, creating a new one.
  • All in all, setting up flexible bid strategies is an awkward, laborious process in the web interface.

The idea of flexible bid strategies is interesting on paper and has potentially useful implications in the long term. For now it is simply a perplexing addition in the midst of AdWords' massive upheaval with enhanced campaigns. Many advertisers are simply confused – and the rest of us are just finding our workflow being slowed.

Two steps forward, one step back.

About the author

John A. Lee is an Internet marketing jack-of-all-trades with experience managing PPC, SEO and social media campaigns, but is perfecting his pay-per-click and analytics skills for Clix Marketing clients. John is an avid blogger, writing both professionally for the Clix Marketing PPC Blog and on personal blogs.

Before joining Clix Marketing, John worked as Paid Search Manager for Wordstream and was a Senior Search Marketing Consultant for Hanapin Marketing in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was instrumental in the success of Hanapin's two search marketing blogs: PPCHero.com and SEOBoy.com. John's writing has also appeared on the Wordstream Blog, ShimonSandler.com, and within Website Magazine.