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The Underestimated Art of Manual Bidding in Google Ads

Google Ads is a powerful marketing tool. Despite the industry’s complaints, there is no denying that Google has revolutionized how businesses can effectively reach potential customers online.

In 2024, Google Ads will be powered by automation and machine learning, and the push to be fully automated is stronger than ever. Some industry experts predict the complete elimination of manual bidding any day now.

The automation push is located within the platform, specifically on the recommendations tab. It is also promoted by Google strategists and in the marketing, case studies and blogs that Google shares with the advertising community.

However, considering the complexities of different industries, some paid search experts advocate for the value of manual bidding.

In this post, we will cover the overarching concept of automated bidding versus manual bidding, and I will share my evolving perspective on each approach to bidding.

I have wholeheartedly embraced automated bidding since at least 2020. Working on paid search campaigns for renowned brands has been a privilege. For large advertisers’ automation works out well.

However, since I am now working independently, most of my time is dedicated to managing lesser-known brands and service-based campaigns. This has prompted me to question my approach and consider the value of manual bidding.

Automation has allowed me to take the time to focus on strategy

Having started in paid search before automation, I believe that automation has improved my ability to manage paid search accounts. It has allowed me to become more efficient and effective in delivering client results.

I’ve dedicated more time to executing strategies for my clients, which means less time spent creating Excel pivot tables and worrying about statistical significance. It’s been a game-changer in terms of focusing on what matters.

Manual bidding can be flawed

I believe that keyword-level bids have inherent flaws. Adjusting bids at the keyword level is not a reliable measure since we know that relying on a single keyword for conversions is fundamentally flawed.

Manual bidding fails to acknowledge the various touchpoints that occur before a sale or conversion action takes place.

Automated bidding has a different paradigm

Automated bidding operates differently from manual bidding. With automation, the bidding algorithm can continuously learn and make incremental improvements as it gathers more data. Over time, as the system considers additional data points, it becomes adept at identifying the factors that lead to conversions.

To effectively manage accounts, it is crucial to establish a structure that maximizes the availability of data. This allows bidding to function optimally, leading to more successful outcomes.

The days of hyper-segmented account structures are long gone. The actual key lies in consolidation. Campaigns can be consolidated based on intent or business objectives.

To illustrate, a hotel account can be organized into ‘Consideration’ and ‘Conversion’ campaigns. For instance, the Consideration Campaign would consist of ad groups targeting keywords like ‘things to do in NYC,’ while the Conversion Campaign would focus on ad groups with keywords like ‘places to stay in NYC’. This approach allows for a more targeted and effective advertising strategy.

Budgets and goals can be adjusted for either the consideration campaign or the conversion campaign.

Time is also a crucial factor. It typically takes a few weeks of data to observe enhanced performance.

Automation is not always the answer

Industries in the home service sector have a unique characteristic – high intent but low search volume. Regarding manual bidding, advertisers need to make quick decisions and move faster with the learning capabilities of automation.

Consider an emergency plumber as an example. This type of business typically operates within a 30-50 mile radius, aiming to respond promptly to urgent search queries. 

For instance, when someone searches for terms like “flooding basement” or “burst pipe in basement.” During an emergency, people usually don’t have the luxury to compare prices or consider multiple service providers. The business on top generally wins the sale.

In cases where heavy rainstorms occur, and basement flooding becomes a widespread issue, automated bidding systems may not be able to react quickly enough to capture relevant traffic. Bids must change rapidly to capture the traffic and then be reduced when the search volume becomes steady.

These jobs can also be large for the advertiser, and Google bidding can become competitive. An account relying on automation can quickly burn through the advertiser’s budget. These bids must be low enough to maintain profitability and be high enough to get the jobs.

The entry of competitors often triggers bidding wars, which can significantly impact marketing costs. 

It is advisable to lower bids when such situations arise or stop competition in that auction to avoid financial strain. 

Automated bid strategies tend to react to market dynamics and keyword portfolios. The automation ensures that when the market becomes more competitive, the cost per click (CPC) will rise in alignment with other players. This is troublesome for service businesses with a tight cost-per-lead range.

The use of manual CPC works well for law firms, too. Law offices have exorbitant CPCs and well-known competitors. Manual bids offer a precise response to industry shifts and revenue objectives.

Parting Thoughts

Manual bidding was once considered the gold standard until around 2017. 

Despite the rise of automation, the role of human intellect and vertical expertise remains irreplaceable. 

While automation undeniably offers efficiency, there are specific sectors and scenarios where manual bidding provides an essential layer of control, precision, and strategic adaptability. 

It is within these contexts that the value of manual bidding still holds worth in 2024.

It is essential to acknowledge that advertising is not homogenous. It is a blend of humans and technology, and manual bidding should not be overlooked as a tactic.

For those who are navigating the more complex service-based businesses, consider an approach that incorporates the sometimes-overlooked art of manual bidding.

I used to believe that the paid search professionals who promoted manual bidding were unnecessarily complicating things. 

However, after working with service-based businesses, I realized that it’s not about rejecting what’s new but acknowledging the value of controlled bidding. Finding the right balance between human expertise and automation is crucial.

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