The problem with Live Searching for your own ads

Live searching for ads is an intuitive way to see for yourself what potential customers can see and how you’re positioned against competitors. However, this method increasingly hides the full picture, with a range of factors determining who sees your ads, how they’re ranked and if they even appear at all. Here we take a deeper look at several of these reasons, including audience-based bid adjustments and search volume.

We explore this topic ahead of April 2020, when Google will cease the accelerated serving of ads (entering every ad auction possible until you run out of budget for the day) and move towards standard serving (Google decides which auctions you enter). This alone is reason enough to stop relying on live searching to check how your ads are serving. Combining this with the increasing adoption of Smart Bidding, and algorithms have even greater control over who does or does not see your ads.

The Power of Audiences

In addition to the usual keyword bids, the wealth of audience and demographic data available adds powerful insight into who your customers are, the likelihood of them converting and from this, the most you should pay for their click to meet your KPIs. It follows that some impressions are more valuable to your business than others and it’s vital for performance to use this information to prioritise traffic from those most likely to convert, especially when working to limited advertising budgets or tight KPI targets.

The implication for live searching here is that if your digital silhouette doesn’t match the characteristics and behaviours of your most valuable audiences, then chances are you personally won’t see your ads in the prime positions. Which is good news! Your budget is likely being directed to more valuable audiences.

Of course there’s a chance that someone with your digital footprint could convert on the keyword you search, but if smart bidding believes your click would cost too much after accounting for your expected conversion rate (i.e. it believes your budget can be spent more effectively elsewhere), then it’ll either reduce bids to serve an ad in a low position or simply not enter the auction at all.

Low Search Volume

When you’re not being served your ad, an important question to ask is how many people are actually searching your keyword? Low search volume is another factor affecting whether your ads – or any ads at all – are shown. When Google lacks sufficient search data to create a fair ad auction they’re unable to estimate expected click-through rates for a keyword and thus aren’t able to rank ads with any certainty. As a rule of thumb, short generic keywords tend to pick up significantly more volume than the long keywords more specific to your products or niche.

If the exact match variant of your keyword suffers from low volume, try changing the match type to something broader (or make sure to remove the exact match as a keyword integrity negative from your phrase/BMM campaigns). This may explain why your competitors’ ads are showing but yours aren’t on long-tail keywords.

Repeat Searching

When live searching your ads successfully trigger your ads, you generate an impression. By not clicking your ad – whilst not costing you anything – you reduce your actual click-through rate and damage your expected click-through rate. After triggering an ad and repeatedly not clicking, Google may believe you aren’t interested and stop serving you the ad entirely.

Other Factors

On top of standard ad serving and audience-based bid adjustments, there’s several factors relating to budgets and bidding that can exacerbate you being unable to see your ads when live searching:

  • Limited campaign budgets. When the volume of available traffic exceeds what you can afford with your campaign budget, there’s going to be a larger degree of prioritisation going on.
  • Highly competitive keywords. When all of your competitors are bidding high on the same keyword, the click may be too expensive to hit your KPIs.
  • Low CPA targets on Smart Bidding. Reducing your CPA target will increase Smart Bidding’s prioritisation of traffic, and it will likely become more selective about who is served ads.

Our Recommendation

To health-check your ads, we suggest using the Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool, found in the Tools section of the Google Ads platform. Here, you can select the keyword, browser language, device and a remarketing audience for a preview and status diagnosis. This tool identifies the obstacles facing your ads from a significant number of factors and as of next month, Google will become more selective in serving ads, meaning this tool will only become more useful.