How your human brain helps improve the Google Ads AI

The Google Ads AI might be smarter than ever, but you can’t always rely on it for making the right decisions

Jean-Michel Fontaine, marketing director

By JEAN-MICHEL FONTAINE

As one of the world’s leading pioneers in artificial intelligence, Google often claims that the AI it uses to power its PPC advertising platform is smarter than ever. However, while it is true that Google is constantly testing and refining its algorithms and introducing new features and functions, it still cannot replace human intuition. Because of this, advertisers should not rely on it entirely if they want to maximize their return on investment.

Bikes vs. bicycles and Google’s misunderstanding

One of our international clients is a large e-commerce store that specialises in a wide variety of consumer goods. To help them maximise their reach, we launched specific campaigns for each product category and then created customised ad groups for them. However, we noticed that one of the ad groups was performing significantly below expectations.

In July 2019, we introduced an ad group to promote bicycles for the store. Naturally, we made sure that all our keywords included the word ‘bicycle’, along with various related terms pertaining to the products and services offered by our client. We came up with more than 1,000 keywords, which we added to the ad group, and each ad mentioned the word ‘bicycle’ at least twice. As such, the ad group was perfectly optimised for the topic at hand.

From then on, the performance of the campaign continued to improve until February 2020. In March, due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic situation, we decided to take a closer look at the search terms associated with our campaigns with a view to addressing brand safety concerns. However, we were surprised to discover that, for the ad group promoting bicycles, we ended up with a disappointing Quality Score of only 3.8 out of 10. This was despite having a keyword-optimised landing page and ads that clearly mentioned bicycles.

The reason for this turned out to be even more surprising. While we had only used keywords that mentioned bicycles, Google decided to display our ads for users looking for bikes. Though that made sense, what surprised us was how Google gave us a low quality score, which turned out to be because the ads did not mention ‘bikes’. As such, the click-through rate (CTR) was lower, and the reduced quality score meant inferior ad positions and higher costs per click.

Working around Google’s limitations with a simple fix

The Google Ads AI is undeniably advanced, and it’s improving all the time, but in this situation, it clearly showed its limits. Thus we had to add some human knowledge and intuition into the mix to help the AI do its job better.

In March 2020, we duplicated the Bicycles ad group and named the new ad group ‘Bikes’. We also changed all mentions of ‘bicycles’ in the ad copy to ‘bikes’. Immediately, the performance of both ad groups started to improve.

A year later, we now have excellent results, if we compare the Bicycles + Bikes ad groups, to the Bicycles ad group before we split it in two:

  • The cost per click (CPC) is 2% lower
  • The cost per conversion is 35% lower
  • The conversion rate is 54% higher
  • The return on advertising spend (ROAS) is 62% higher

Conclusion

The original issue came about because Google has been giving more and more freedom to its AI in recent years, and less control to marketers. There are three main milestones, which highlight this trend:

  • 2018: Google Ads no longer takes exact-match keywords into account
  • 2020: Google Ads no longer shows all search terms anymore
  • 2021: Google Ads no longer allows broad match modifier (BMM) keywords

These changes emphasise the need for continuous testing and refinement, instead of relying entirely on the Google Ads AI to decide on things like search terms and keywords by itself.

Are you struggling to maximize the effectiveness of your Google Ads campaigns? comtogether can help you build high-impact, customer-centric marketing campaigns that can tackle today’s biggest advertising challenges. Contact us today to schedule your free strategy session.

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About the author

Jean-Michel Fontaine
Jean-Michel is a well of knowledge in all things digital, as well as an incurable spreadsheet fanatic. He genuinely likes to share his experience and to build up our clients digital competencies.