Which bidding strategies help you conquer Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) without breaking the budget? Find out in this guide.
Here, you’ll find:
- What Google Ads bidding strategies are
- Different bidding strategies and their key features
- Tips for staying within budget
- How to choose the right one for your campaign
If you own an investment software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform, it would be great to rank #1 for “investment app” or “best micro-investing app.” To do so, you’ll need a hefty budget and a keen eye to compete with Robinhood and WealthSimple — but that’s precisely what bidding strategies are for.
Google Ads is like a silent auction house where the highest bidders win prime ad space. The tricky part is knowing how high to bid and when to do it, especially if you’re in a competitive space like finance or health.
Solid bidding strategies help you get more clicks from qualified leads, optimize ad spend, and maximize conversion value.
We used manual and automated bidding strategies to help Datadog, and found they were leaking ad spend on high-cost clicks with low-conversion keywords. We paused ad campaigns that weren’t bringing results and shifted the strategy to bid higher on keywords that converted — those were the ones worth shelling out the big bucks on.
Still, choosing a bidding strategy is complex, even for proficient marketers. Not to worry, we’ll walk you through the top bidding strategies, who they work best for, and how to implement them in your search campaigns.
What are bidding strategies?
A bid strategy informs how you’ll approach keyword bids to meet various business and campaign goals.
- Does your ecommerce marketing team want to score a sky-high conversion rate for your brand new product ad campaign? There’s a bidding strategy for that.
- Looking to build brand awareness and generate hella traffic? There’s a bidding strategy for that, too.
Different bidding strategies might call for downward or upward bid adjustments, as well as manual or automated bidding, often determined by your entire budget.
Automated bidding involves less hassle, as Google Ads uses machine learning to pick up insights from your ads campaigns, and automatically adjusts your bids based on your daily budget.
Manual cost-per-click (CPC) bidding, on the other hand, demands a lot more time and attention since you have to set bids by hand. However, it’s often a better strategy for businesses that want to keep a tighter lid on their ad spend.
Google has a few bidding strategies to choose from for each campaign. They are helpful tools to guide your marketing efforts, but you’ll also want to lean on ad performance data.
We’ve seen the greatest revenue and success for ad campaigns that were consistently informed by insights from data and metrics. ConversionIQ, our proprietary tech, cultivates rich data and reveals which leads bring the most revenue.
So, where do you start? With Google’s bidding strategies. Keep reading to learn about each one.
Google Ads bidding strategies
The right bidding strategy might look different across various businesses, goals, ads campaigns, ad groups, and budgets.
You might even change your bidding strategy mid-campaign if your ads performance is lacking. It’s a trial-and-error affair, especially for the beginner marketer. If you want to minimize time spent testing and tweaking, it’s best to work with a Google Ads agency.
Here are your options to start:
Manual CPC (cost-per-click)
This is the OG of all the bidding strategies on our list. With manual bidding, you set the maximum CPC bid you’re willing to invest as a cost-per-click. So if you think a web visitor on your site is worth $0.10, you can manually set your bid at that amount. Don’t forget to conduct keyword research and check out Google’s Keyword Planner if you’re running a manual Google Ads campaign.
If 100 people see your ad and 70 people click on it, you’ll pay $7. But it’s unlikely you’ll get any clicks if you’re working with a competitive keyword — in that case, $0.10 is likely too low of a bid. Manual CPC is a great choice for beginner or budgeting marketers as it’s more affordable than automatic upward adjustments.
Still, the seasoned marketer might prefer manual CPC to maintain control over their campaigns.
We love manual CPC because we can tailor every client’s campaign to the juicy insights we receive from ConversionIQ every day.
- Best for:
- Initial ad campaigns
- Building brand awareness
- Requires a lot of time to manage
- Conversions aren’t easy to obtain for beginners
Enhanced CPC (ECPC)
Want the control of manual bidding with the results of an automated campaign? Sounds like you need a semi-automated bidding strategy. Enhanced CPC (aka ECPC) is your happy middle ground — provided you have the budget for it.
Everything remains the same as a manual-bidding campaign except for Google’s automatic bid adjustments. They use historical data from your ad performance to assess how likely your clicks will lead to conversions. And if Google calculates a likely conversion, your keyword bids can shoot as high as your maximum CPC. Similarly, Google could decrease a keyword bid if they noticed a lacking performance.
But it’s the increased bids that can get a bit intimidating, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Although Google might calculate a likely conversion, your target ad spend could be tossed out the window within one campaign.
- Best for:
- Targeting new audiences
- Still takes time to manage, plus the potential to miss out on profits with too-high CPC
Target Impression Share
No publicity is bad publicity, right? That’s what a Target Impression Share enthusiast might argue for this automated bidding strategy. Here, you’ll aim for your ad to increase by a desired percentage when someone searches a keyword. If you target a high percentage, you’ll definitely garner lots of eyes on your ads. Click-through rate (CTR) is here to stay.
Still, our main criticism of this strategy is that it doesn’t care about qualified leads. And while lots of eyes sound appealing for brand awareness, they don’t mean much if none of those eyes care enough about your product to buy it.
Some search engine marketing (SEM) professionals see Target Impression Share as a pathway to an immense number of conversions down the line. Others see it solely as a brand awareness strategy. We see the potential for both, as long as you closely monitor CPC to avoid wasted ad spend.
- Best for:
- Building brand awareness and maximizing visibility
- Risk of unqualified leads and high CPC
Do you have a product you’re dying to show off to your target audience? You’ve probably already set up a Google video ad campaign.
In a target cost-per-view strategy, a view is every new click or interaction with your video. You’ll pay every time a visitor clicks on a link in the video, shares it with a friend, completes a call-to-action (CTA), or watches it for 30+ seconds.
No, the people who skip don’t count. But that brings up another issue: most people skip ads, even your target audience. To heighten your chances of qualified video views, Google recommends making the video as personalized as possible, with engaging storytelling.
We also recommend having a clear target audience in mind. If your ads show up for too broad an audience, you’ll dilute your lead pool. Finally, today’s video campaign strategy isn’t complete without considering Reels and YouTube shorts, according to Search Engine Land. We’d even recommend Facebook Ads to leverage visibility on your target audience’s feeds and stories.
- Best for:
- Super interactive products and smaller budgets (CPV is less expensive than CPC)
- Difficult to make it past the skip, high chance of irrelevant ad placements, requires serious video editing expertise
We’re skipping impressions, views, and clicks, and dedicating bids to one goal: conversions (and new customers). Out of Google’s three smart bidding strategies, this one creates the most value out of your daily budget.
Here’s how it works: You give Google a daily budget and it’ll spend as much of that budget as necessary to get you as many conversions as possible.
The algorithm is informed by:
- Historical data from your campaigns, including conversion data
- Contextual signals at auction-time, like remarketing lists, operating system, or browser
You can even set a target cost per action (CPA) for Google to maintain as well. Just remember to set a separate daily budget for each campaign and enable conversion tracking.
- Best for:
- Direct customer action
- High CPC
How confident are you in your landing page? If it’s a serial converter, Maximizing clicks could be a solid automated bidding strategy for your campaign. Maximize Clicks has the same idea as Maximize Conversions, except Google consumes your daily budget in search of clicks, not conversions.
This strategy is for brands that want to generate as much traffic as possible to their website. But its most significant downside in our eyes is the lack of qualified leads or remarketing capabilities. Still, it’s a surefire way to put your brand on the SERPs and promote more customer loyalty among your existing audience.
- Best for:
- Brand awareness
- Matching competition
- High CPC
- Unqualified leads
Target return on ad spend (tROAS)
Ad spend occupies many marketers’ minds, but the more important metric is return on ad spend (ROAS) . Let’s say your target ad spend is $800. Fast-forward to your latest campaign: your ad spend is $500 and your return on investment (ROI) is $100. So, your ROAS is 20%.
But what if you surpassed your target ad spend and reached $1,000? Your ROI shot up to $500? In that case, your ROAS is 50%, and it’s a much better scenario despite the surpassed target ad spend.
That’s why target ROAS (tROAS) is our favorite among Google’s smart bidding strategies. Here, Google automatically adjusts bids to reach your target ROAS based on predicted conversion values. Of course, you can set maximums and minimums to avoid a tossed-out budget; however, you might sacrifice results.
Speaking of results, you’ll need to get specific in your campaign setup to see them.
First, you’ll need a seriously data-informed ROAS goal (we can help with that). Next, you’ll need hyper-accurate conversion values.
How valuable is a local conversion versus one from out-of-state, for example? The local conversion might mean more repeat business for your brick-and-mortar store, so you’d attribute a higher value.
Or, how valuable is a business customer versus an individual? If you sell high-cost enterprise subscriptions for your SaaS business, the business customer might be a higher-value conversion.
- Best for:
- Sales and transaction conversions, not lead conversions like clicks or newsletter signups
- Costly — Google recommends marketers who use this strategy feel comfortable with spending twice their average daily budget
Tips to optimize every bidding strategy
Bidding strategies warrant regular reviews and updates based on historical data. You’ll have to test a few out to see which works best for your campaign. Still, PPC campaigns have a high average cost, especially if you’re spending your budget testing out different strategies.
Here are a few options you might try to maximize your bidding strategies:
1. Optimize promotions with seasonality adjustments
Running a limited-time blowout promotion? Seasonality adjustments help you align bids with higher expected conversions. Say you had a 5-day 50% off sale from your highest-tier subscription. You might expect higher conversions from a particular audience.
Seasonality adjustments let you manually increase your bid for related keywords for a set number of days. But they aren’t suitable for more extended periods — we’re talking seven days max. For example, if you sell winter coats and expect more conversions in December compared to November, you should pivot your strategy more heavily than with a seasonality adjustment.
2. Test with bid simulations and estimates
A/B testing is a great way to assess performance and play around with campaign structure. But why waste precious ad spend on testing when Google offers bid simulations?
Of course, you can’t predict exact data all the time, but you can use previous ads performance insights to help you simulate a campaign and test different projections. If your bidding strategy is manual CPC, bid simulations are a great way to test the waters on bid adjustments. If a bid reduction will cost you clicks and conversions, a bid simulation will show you before it happens.
3. Streamline Google Search campaigns with automated rules
One of the biggest concerns people have with CPC and Enhanced CPC bidding strategies is the time they require. We like to automate rules in Google Ads to help save time and offer peace of mind.
For example, we can get around the risk of surpassed budgets on enhanced CPC by automating a rule to pause campaigns once they meet certain criteria. You might automate a pause if all campaigns in your ad group surpass a set budget.
Or, you can increase bids on individual keywords depending on the time of day. Maybe your target audience is more active online during lunch hours or less active in the middle of the night.
If you need more ideas, check out Google’s insights on common ways to use automated rules.
The right bidding strategy depends on factors like campaign goals, overall business goals, budgets, competition, and most importantly, ad performance data and insights.
Can a new or intermediate marketer successfully pick the right combination of strategies to meet conversion, click, or revenue goals? Absolutely, even in the learning phase, you can explore the strategies and tips in this article and start building your ad campaigns.
Can strategies and tips replace years of PPC knowledge and experience, dedicated experts, automation and AI-driven insights? Not likely. That’s where we come in. At HawkSEM, we help SaaS marketers connect the data dots and create robust, revenue-generating strategies that generate quick results.
Ready to find the right bidding strategy for your business? Let’s level up your ad campaigns.