AdWords is clearly moving towards higher automation, even if a full automatic long-lasting optimization is still yet to come. Anyway it is possible to create accounts automatically reacting to competitors’ activities and maintaining performances for long times without manual activities.
Since I made my first campaign (more than 12 years ago) I have always been working on that. Here are the basics to do it.
First of all, your account has to have a flexible structure to naturally target new valuable keywords. So, pure matching types exclusion campaigns are automatically out of the game.
Groups set to focus on one or few terms in phrase or exact match, excluding all the rest are rigid by definition (and you will need more time to create and control them).
Probably AdWords developing team too believes this way of structuring campaigns not to be the best one, this is why they recently weakened the impact of phrase and exact matches.
I am forcing the system this way only when users’ real searches are concentrated on few terms absorbing high budget amounts and competitors are bidding specifically on these terms, skyrocketing CPC levels.
That is why you need some “scouting” campaigns based on broad match long tail keywords or broad modified medium tail keys.
This approach is undoubtedly more flexible, but requires to periodically check real users’ queries to spot new good ones and to exclude others with negatives. But it is still better than checking hundreds of mini-adgroups every day.
Let’s come to bids. A real auto-optimizing campaign cannot of course rely on manual adjustments, but only on CPA bidding or optimized CPC. In my experience I haven’t found any bidding strategy fitting all accounts and working as effectively as these ones.
Moving to CPA definitely requires several daily conversions (otherwise it will worsen your performances), while optimized CPC is more flexible. Of course to apply these bidding automations you need to track all possible conversions.
If you are not tracking all your online goals you are using AdWords at a fraction of its power, and, if you haven’t enough of them, then you should consider behavioral conversions (besides online sales/contacts), such as newsletter subscriptions, downloads and even long-lasting or deep visits (in terms of number of pages seen) tracked via Analytics.
This way you are not cheating yourself, but only understanding where your top quality traffic comes from, even when trying to sell something with no market, no brand or with a terrible landing page.
Another feature of auto-optimizing campaigns is the equilibrium in budget and real total daily cost.
If you are spending the maximum every day, you are letting AdWords to decide for which items to show your ads. In other words, you are randomly losing part of your impressions, while you should cover all traffic peaks of your best performing keys/placements.
Peaks could come from seasonality or your competitors’ campaigns or… who knows! So, you need to carefully choose your keys/placements and tune your CPCs in order to normally spend less than your daily budget if you want everyone who could arrive on your site using high converting ways will actually see your ads.
Besides regular control of real users’ queries, another maintenance task which cannot be demanded to the platform is adding new ads variants and extensions (all of them 🙂 as often as you can.
The widespread practice of testing only two ads at a time in each group works only if add new ads on a daily basis or so, otherwise will limit the platform internal optimizing algo.
Groups without a wide range of variants to auto-test will require much more time and manual efforts to find the best ones for a mobile device, or in certain locations or hours of the day, etc., while leaving active some apparently underperforming ads will not really affect your campaigns (due to their low traffic).
Finally, auto-optimizing campaigns need at least a couple of automatic alerts to notify you via email that something is going wrong and you have to correct it.
The first one should be checking lack of impressions in active campaigns/groups. It is quite simple to set with automated rules, and it is going to spot all unwanted interruptions.
The second, and more important one, should be related to conversions losses. Again you can very easily set an automated rule at campaign or group level, or you will need a script to do it once for an entire account or managing account (former MCC).
This way you will have the situation under control even without looking at the account every day (or even for weeks ;-).
Paraphrasing what Einstein once said: every intelligent professional can complicate an AdWords account, only the best ones can make it simple without losing conversions 😉