I’ve worked with Google Ads for a long time, and for as long as I can remember, Google has become gradually more pushy with their “recommendations.” And now, in an ethically questionable decision, they’ve begun to automatically apply these recommendations on certain accounts.
In this post, I’ll tell you:
First, though, I think it’s worth putting Google’s recommendations in the context of their overall Google Ads support and tools.
The Google Ads interface is a robust UI with tons of built-in metrics and measurement. This is great for those who know what they all mean and how to prioritize the right ones for their business. For others, it can be an overwhelming “analysis paralysis” situation. Still, I appreciate that Google does allow for the users to make that decision and focus on the KPIs that matter to them.
Within Google Ads, there are pre-built reports, easy segmentation options, and fairly intuitive modules for creating effective ads. Generally speaking, the platform itself is quite strong and advertiser-friendly.
The access to support is good (not great), and generally easy to connect to. By contrast, support on Facebook and Amazon ads are far inferior and vastly more frustrating. Google reps are typically ready to help you, even if you have to go through the scripted “did you try this?” motions first.
Anyway, I’ve set up this context because I want to clear that when I say that the “Recommendations” feature has always been weak, it is in fact inconsistent with the platform as a whole. And while there are innumerable ethical concerns to be had with Google as a company, this new development — Google Ads forcing its weakest feature on advertisers — is, to me, the biggest red flag to be found in the PPC platform.
To be blunt about it, most of the recommendations I see from this feature prioritize (intentionally or not) increased spending, either through raising the budget directly, or through increasing the reach of the campaigns, thus making them use up the allowed budget faster so you’ll have to increase it if you don’t want to “cap out” everyday.
In recent years, Google introduced the Optimization Score metric, which tells you how well you’re implementing these recommendations. By gamifying the process, they’ve surely convinced more people to hit “apply” on things they otherwise would have ignored. I admit that even I, personally, have a mental obstacle when my idea of “optimized” is not reflected in the score Google gives me.
But what’s worse is that I’ve found that a majority of the recommendations make my account performance worse, based on the KPIs that matter to me and my clients. I make a lot of intentional, informed choices when creating campaigns, and the recommendations Google puts forth often are not just unhelpful, but actually contrary and damaging to my campaign goals and objectives. And I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.
So, let’s look at where we go from here…
How to Know if Your Google Ads Account is Affected
To start on a positive note, finding this answer is easy, and thus far, all accounts that I manage are unaffected.
Simply go to this Auto-Applied Recommendations Control Center page. The “Accounts” tab will show you if the new “feature” is active on any of your accounts. If it is, you can disable it right in this same screen.
If the Status column reads “Not Activated,” you are not affected (yet).
Why Does Google Think Automatic “Apply” of Recommendations Is a Good Thing?
Here’s what Google says about Google Ads Recommendations in their Help Content section of the aforementioned Control Center:
Recommendations can introduce you to new, relevant features and help you get more out of your budget by improving your bids, keywords, ads, and targeting. …
These recommendations are continuously added to your account based on your performance history, campaign settings, and Search trends across Google.
Note the language here: “…by improving your bids, keywords, ads, and targeting.”
Improving? Based on what? Maybe there’s a reason I don’t want to blow my entire budget on the highest volume keywords.
Also, “based on performance history” is equally ambiguous. They don’t say what it is in your history they look for. I have no reason to expect that Google Ads knows my priorities better than I do, and most of the time I don’t want their recommendations.
(Sorry if I’m sounding rant-y!)
What Types of Campaign Changes Is Google Able to Make with This Process?
So, what happens if the auto application is enabled and you don’t turn it off? There are a number changes Google can make. To again reference the Help Content page, you can scroll down to see 34 example changes delineated that could be imposed on your campaigns.
Let’s look at a few examples here:
“Add sitelink extensions to your ads: Make your ads more prominent and improve your CTR.”
Again with the “improve” language. Sure, a higher click-through rate sounds great, but it’s not quite that simple. Sitelink extensions add links to additional pages on your website. The idea is that not only does it give users more options to choose what they want to see, but it makes your ad take up more space and be more noticeable. And it’s true that, in most cases, this leads to a higher CTR.
The downside? You probably created your ad with a specific landing page in mind. The landing page is one that is relevant to your targeted keywords and audience and facilitates conversions and user actions that help you, the advertiser, derive the most value out of your clicks. When Google decides to add your “About Us” page as a sitelink, people can click that, get distracted, don’t see a contact form or Buy button, and leave.
“Test new ad text for repeatedly used phrases: Improve your ad performance by testing new ad text for phrases used repeatedly in your text ads.”
Uh uh. Nope. Absolutely not.
Almost every marketing agency, freelancer, and junior in-house marketing person has, at some point, had to deal with an agonizing approval process for ad copy. “Let’s make that all capitals,” “I don’t like the phrase ‘flash sale,'” etcetera, etcetera.
The idea that Google is just going to waltz in and bypass not just the approval process but ALSO the copy writers who initiate the approval process is just maddening, and can lead to serious client relationship issues.
“Bid more efficiently with Target impression share: Optimize for your ads’ visibility with a fully automated bid strategy.”
If you’re not familiar with “target impression share” strategy, here’s how it works.
Your ads show when you win “auctions” for user search terms, based on your keyword bid and a number of other factors. If the keyword is at all competitive, you probably won’t have a 100% impression share (i.e. your ad displaying every single time someone’s search matches your keyword targeting), so you just have to balance the available search volume with how much you’re willing to spend on the bids. Sometimes 80% is your sweet spot for ROI.
Sometimes it’s 10%. 100% impression share does make sense for brand searches. If your company is “Megacolorful Crayons Inc,” you want to show up every time someone searches “megacolorful crayons.”
On the other hand, do you want to show up 100% of the time someone searches “crayons?” That’s your decision to make, but likely spoiler here: No.
This is can be a nuanced and data-driven process to find the sweet spot, but the point is that you should be in control of the bidding. Don’t just let Google take a target of 90% and run wild on bidding to hit it.
This new approach by Google is lacking some clarity, so I encourage all Google Ads account managers to pay close attention. And if you’re a small business without the time or ability to focus on this, consider partnering up with a PPC Management Agency. Besides the improvement to ROI you’d likely see anyway, they’ll help ensure you don’t turn over your decision-making to Google’s algorithms.