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7 Secret AdWords Account & Productivity Hacks To Sharpen Your Management Skills

This week, we've been publishing our tips on account management, from both a tool and an broader-level perspective. Yesterday, I shared my tips on managing larger AdWords accounts. Today, I'll reluctantly be sharing a few of the secret and not-so-secret tools inside AdWords that give us the edge over a lot of our competition and, as a result, make our customers very happy campers. So without further ado, here are some of the tips, tricks, features and functions that you should be using to improve your AdWords management skills. This isn't a list of features, it's how you use them that matters. So let's get stuck in.


Use an External Reporting Tool

We do a lot of client testing, surveying and interviewing. Sometimes a little too much. We genuinely care about the value that we deliver to our customers. One thing that we learned early on was that our customers simply didn’t look at the reports that we spent vast resources creating for them. Very few of our customers cared about quality score variance or the CTR of their keywords, let alone campaigns, on a daily scale. So now, we interview each person we’re sending reports to and create their report based on that interview. We don’t give them the report they’re asking for (which is usually “give me everything”); we give them the reports that they need. These usually come in the form of a chart or simple table, but in some cases, can be a lot more complicated.


We don’t use the built-in AdWords reporting suite, either. Nor can GA dashboards give all the AdWords data we need. You can try tools like Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, or if you’re lucky enough to live in the US, try Google’s very own version of Power BI, Data Studio. The learning curve for them all is pretty steep but can save hundreds of hours in report generation that nobody is going to read. The industry standard at the moment is Tableau and here's a tip... if you're a student, you can get it for free. 


Explain Your Changes

One of the biggest frustrations we have with AdWords is the lack of annotations. GA does this perfectly and I’ve personally been requesting this from AdWords for years. I still cannot get my head around why this isn’t a feature, but I have high hopes that the new AdWords UI will at least enable the feature. While you’re waiting for that, try storing your AdWords Editor data on a shared drive and using the comments feature. If your team is smaller than 5 on any given account, you can use the comments as shared annotations and you’ll actually get an explanation for all that green you’re seeing.


Remarketing Lists for Search Ads & Similar Audiences

Like I have for exactly 100% of the remarketing innovations that came out of Google in the past decade, I thought this was just an absolutely ridiculous idea. Like 100% of the remarketing innovations I’ve actually used from Google, I was 120% wrong about that.  


RLSAs, apart from Customer Match, have been the best-performing remarketing feature for our clients by a very wide margin, especially for those with a large range of products or services on offer. Targeting “similar to” lists is one of our secret weapons when refining our targeting and improving ROI. Curating a set of remarketing lists is going to become much more important over the coming year. If you’re an agency, you can share lists across accounts, and that can be incredibly valuable to all your clients combined. The more you curate, the more valuable your lists become. A rising tide floats all boats.


In-Market Audiences & Custom Affinity Audiences

Not really a secret, or a hack, but so powerful it has to be included here. I’ll admit, I didn’t really understand these for about a year after they were released in 2014. We didn’t make these a high priority, “must implement” feature for far too long and this was a huge mistake. In-Market Audiences are without a doubt, the biggest “killer” feature on AdWords for the Google Display Network. In-Market Audiences basically allow you to target your ads at a group of people that Google has, with great accuracy, identified as being shopping for something. For example, say you sell scented candles. Google has a list for that, and you’re probably on it. Google will use its vast set of data to identify users that were maybe searching for “how to be more romantic,” and a day later did a search for “how many candles is too many in the bathroom?” then the same day searched for “longest lasting scented candles”. That user then spent 4 hours browsing the scented candle subreddit and they even set up their own blog about their journey to find the perfect scented candle. That user then, the next day, searched for “best scented candles” and then used Google shopping to search for the different scented candles. For 24 HOURS, Google will add this user to the scented candles in-market audience list that anyone can target in their display campaigns. Especially you. It’s like Google has completely eliminated the need to do any sales cycle analysis. Try it out, I think you’ll be impressed with the results. Don’t put it off like I did for so long. It’s one of my biggest AdWords regrets.


Campaign Drafts & Experiments

When I first heard about this beta project 3 years ago at the AdWords Community Summit, the Product Manager didn’t have a chance to sit down after she mentioned it. It was the most fascinating project, in my opinion, to come out of AdWords in a really long time. Campaign Drafts & Experiments are really not what you think they are and I believe the name turns a lot of people off. Basically, they allow you to make a “copy” of any of your campaigns and make changes to it. The copy never actually runs, but you see the high level metrics of how it WOULD have performed had it been running. If you like what you see, you can simply apply the changes to the campaign that you “cloned” and you’re good to go. The power of this is incredible and it means that every change that we make for our clients is an improvement. Many have asked: “how come every little change you make improves our account?”. Well, this is our secret. You really have to try it out to see how powerful it really is. If AdWords is your business, there’s nothing worse than making a change that makes things worse for a customer. Especially if they’re a new customer or their account is in trouble. Those days are over. Campaign Drafts & Experiments is still in beta, but public beta. You can apply for the feature right now and be up and running in days.


MCC Scripts

As I’ve mentioned before, we use scripts a lot at Redfly. Some are account based, but most are useful to all of our clients. That’s where MCC Scripts come in. MCC Scripts allow you to apply your script to all, or some, of the accounts you manage in your MCC or Sub-MCC (Manager accounts for the new school folks). The best part is that you get your reporting and errors at the MCC level so you don’t even have to go into each account to check if they worked. You can do almost anything at multi-account scale that you can with account level scripts. So if you’re using them for reporting and dashboarding, you should be using them at the MCC level.


MCC Level Audiences

I’ll end this post with another feature that I sadly ignored for a very long time. MCC level audiences allow you to share a single tag across all your client accounts and create a set of “super lists” for audience lists and remarketing lists. If you live in a small country, you can get up to 90% of your population into these lists and that in itself is obviously an extremely effective tool to have in your set. I think Google doesn't push this one so much because there’s a potential for abuse with these tools. However, I know for a fact that they are watching closely so I doubt that will be an issue if it hasn’t been to date. You can create combined lists for website visits, mobile app users, merge lists and of course, the controversial combined customer email list lists. Super important to make sure you’ve got permission for this, but it’s incredibly valuable for clients who are operating in completely different markets. Especially if those lists are, hint hint, location based.


So that's it for today. Have you used any of these not so common AdWords features? What results did you see? Join me tomorrow (again, I know I'm pushing it) where I'll be giving more management tips, this time, around managing budget better. 

about Dave Davis

Skydiving and travel obsessed. Director of digital marketing agency Redfly, based in Dublin, Ireland. An marketing agency that specializes in AdWords management, Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.

Jignesh G
June 2016

This is very interesting list of hacks Dave.


As you rightly mentioned, most of the people ignore In-Market Audiences & Custom Affinity Audiences as I do. I will definitely give it a try and will share my experience here. Thanks for writing such a great piece of content.

Dave_Davis Top Contributor
June 2016

Thanks @Jignesh G , That means a lot. 

Let me know how you get on with it. I'm always interested to hear how people find it. Usualy surprised  Smiley Happy

Jignesh G
June 2016

Sure will do.

Currently we have one remarketing list for audiences who made purchase from the website. Now, I am focusing on Similar to this list and started targeting those audiences. Lets see how it perform.

Will share output soon.

Malcolm G
June 2016

re: Campaign experiments


can you please clarify "The copy never actually runs, but you see the high level metrics of how it WOULD have performed had it been running"


my understanding is that when setting up a draft and making changes, those changes are either applied to the current campaign or run as an experiment with a proportion of traffic & budget apportioned to that experiment.  You give the impression that changes can be trialled without having to apportion any budget to do so. 

The P Badged Google Partner
August 2016

Dave - these are fabulous tips!

I haven't gotten around to playing Google's data studio yet.
I'm not a huge fan of Tablueu, as you have to refresh everything manually if you're not running the cloud version.


We're one of the earliest users of www.supermetrics.com. It's between $30-$100/month. We used to run it in excel. Now, we use the Google Sheets subscription. It allows us to create dynamically updating dashboards pulling automatically from the most important marketing API's:

Adwords,Analytics, Facebook, Bing & Gemini.


I've replaced companies super expensive BI platforms and dashboarding tools, using this.

We create custom templates ONCE for clients, and they update automatically.

Do you guys stick to Tableau?


Great tips, thanks for the share.