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When advertising gets tough

Inspired by the following thread: The Truth About 'Quality Score' & 'Brand Awareness'


One day you'll have to go against the big guns, either for yourself, or for your customers. And competition will be strong, the ad space will be full and you'll feel the doubts creeping in. Because you know, or you've heard, that in this game, when all things are equal, the one with the deepest pockets always wins.

Yet if you pause for a moment, you realize that there's no such thing as "all things being equal". They never are. There's always a nuance, a small difference, a small advantage which can be used.

So how do you tackle such a situation? How do you rise at least at the same level, if not above your competition? How can you stand the smallest chance against the big names, when your pockets are not so deep and your history does not go so far back?

There's only one way, and one way alone. By using each shot at your disposal as if it were your last. Will it be easy? No. Will it come quickly? No. Will it happen, in the end? You won't know unless you try. Unless you're willing to go all the way. And then, it may happen.

Ok. How?

The setup stage

a) Make sure you own the CTR for your keywords

The CTR is Google's most precious metric. The one who "owns" the CTR for a certain search term is blessed with the lowest costs per click, because Google awards the highest quality score to those reaching the highest CTRs. And since Ad Rank = Quality Score x Bid you can get top positions for much less money once the Quality Score is very high.

How do you do get that great CTR?

By making sure your ads are:

  • very relevant for the search queries you're trying to attract

  • not blending with the ones of your competition. You can't be "one of the many".

How do you make sure your ads are very relevant for the search queries?


You only use very tight match types for your keywords (ideally exact), and you prepare a great list of negative keywords. You don't want your ad to be shown for any query which may not be a perfect match for your ad.

You only use a few, important keywords, for each ad group (by a few I mean 3-5). Remember, ad groups share ads, and you always want the perfect ad for each query.


You only target the area that may get you clicks. Not the whole world, not a whole continent, not the whole country, if it's not absolutely necessary. Only where your "clickers" are.

How do you make sure your ads stand out, and don't blend with the ones of your competition?

You take the search terms you'd like to use as keywords, and use them in the Ad Preview Tool. You take screenshots of what you see there. Several pages per search term, if necessary, in order to see if the top ads change in any way (sometimes Google shows another ad from the same advertiser on top, when you move from one result page to another).

You'll end up with a few tenths of pages. Study them. Some will be bad, inappropriate, unrelated. But some will be good, and some will be downright brilliant.

Try to write 2-3 ads, to begin with, which are different enough to attract attention. There has to be something that makes you different. The years you've been in business, the huge number of satisfied customers, your prices, your approach, your philosophy. Something.

b) Don't accept any keyword-related issue signalled by the Keyword Diagnostic Tool.

Once the keywords are placed in your ad group, and the first ads are written, everything has to show "no problem". Relevance, landing page quality, load time, they all have to be clear of any issues. If there's the slightest issue, it has to be solved. If it's not, you'll either not get to the top or pay too much to get there.

c) Prepare to bid high at the beginning.

Remember that what you bid is not what you pay, but high bids boost your ad rank, and top ads get higher CTR than side ads. Try, if you can, to set a budget for testing the water. If you make sure that everything is set up in the right way, you can rest assured that you're not wasting money, but rather paying what it takes for a seat at the table.

d) Make good use of sitelinks.

As soon as you can get your ads at the top, sitelinks are your greatest ally. Your ad takes up more space, and its message can be extended through sitelinks. It'll sure get noticed a lot easier with them than without them. And you need every bit of attention, and every click you can get.

e) Use "ad group" sitelinks.

Wait. What's that? There's no such thing. You're right. But you get my point. The number of campaigns one can create nowadays has drastically increased. Nothing stops you from creating one campaign instead of one ad group. And you can control both its budget and its theme. You can have one theme per ad group, campaign, and group of sitelinks. All aligned. Sitelinks no longer have to be general, they can be razor sharp as well.

The post-setup, monitoring stage


a) Monitor your keywords and ads continuously.

Make sure that their bids are high enough, and that they trigger your ads.
Use the dimensions tab and check for variations of CPC, CTR and position. A decrease in CPC and position, and an increase in CTR signals you're on the right track. You may also notice QS variations if you look often enough.

b) Pause lower performing ads and write new ones as soon as you see performance discrepancies.

Remember, your ads need to get all the clicks (ok, nearly all) available.

c) Put your keywords through the Ad Preview Tool frequently.

Once the QS of your keywords seems to be stabilized to 7 and over 7 values (a few days later, for instance), take the search terms and put them through the Ad Preview Tool. If you don't come up in the top three adswith sitelinks showing, raise you bids and study the effect. Sometimes you need to bid a bit higher to compensate what you cannot (yet) make up in terms of QS.

If bid raising does not work, get back to your ads and write better ones. Also, run search query reports and make sure you don't get irrelevant search terms, that trigger your ads and don't get clicks.

Wrapping up

Some can afford to throw money at their campaigns. If you're not one of those, you'll have to compensate through hard work. Not leaving anything to chance, studying your competition, dedicating a lot of time and energy to setting up and monitoring your campaigns is one way of making sure that "all things are not equal, after all".

Big guns will win many battles, and they fight many battles. Your goal should be to win one: your battle. But that means digging deep, and sniping when others carpet bomb.

about Calin Sandici

I've turned my hobby (digital marketing & analytics) into a full time job in 2012, after working with Google Analytics and AdWords for several years. Previous jobs: web developer, software project manager, manager of a software development department & partner in a software development company. I love foreign languages and music, sports (when I get a chance) and challenges. Do you have an AdWords related question? Ask it and you shall receive the answer.

January 2013

great post that inspire me a lot! Tks.

Vincent P
October 2013

Man I wish my head didn't spin when I try to figure all this stuff out.... I need to use adwords again but I have NO IDEA what I am doing until I spend a lot of time pouring through this stuff....thanks

deborah w
October 2013

Hi there,


Thanks for your article.  You seem to know a lot about how adwords work.  Can you offer advice on what to do when your adwords account has been working perfectly well for years and, after pausing ads for a little over a month, your ads don't show after being reactivated?  This has happened to my site and I got a response from a Google rep, stating there was no active ads, even though there are (and they are linked to the merchant center).  Please advise if you can help a all....

AdWiser Top Contributor
October 2013

Hello, Deborah.


Thank you for your comment. The first thing that comes to my mind is that there are several elements that, when paused, can prevent ads from showing. Ads do not show if:


  • keywords are paused and they target the search network
  • placements or other display network targeting methods are paused
  • the ads themselves are paused
  • the ad groups are paused
  • the campaigns are paused
  • the campaigns had an end date in the past and now, even if they are activated they do not show since they are past the end date
  • if you ran only product listing ads, there may be a problem with your feed that is preventing this type of ads from showing


Apart from that, if I may, I'd suggest you install the Google Analytics script on your website and start tracking what happens beyond the AdWords click.


Please see if any of the situations above apply to you and let us know if you've managed to restart your campaign.


Boy, is this an old article resurfacing ... Smiley Happy


deborah w
October 2013

Many thanks for taking the time to respond to my query.


In answer to your questions:


  • keywords are paused and they target the search network - no keywords used as this is a product listing ad campaign linked to my merchant center feed
  • placements or other display network targeting methods are paused - not paused
  • the ads themselves are paused
    - not paused
  • the ad groups are paused
    - not paused
  • the campaigns are paused
    - not paused
  • the campaigns had an end date in the past and now, even if they are activated they do not show since they are past the end date - there was no end date set
  • if you ran only product listing ads, there may be a problem with your feed that is preventing this type of ads from showing
    - feed worked perfectly prior to the pause at the end of July.  Also I check the feed status and this is ok.

Do you know how I can get the attention of someone at Google to look into this?  Many thanks in anticipation.

AdWiser Top Contributor
October 2013

There's a "Help" button to the top right of the AdWords interface, if you click it it'll give you the possibility to contact support, and from my experience they're really helpful.


So we're talking about product listing ads on Google Search & Google Shopping, which worked alright until they were paused.


Did you log into Google Merchant Center as well to see if there are no messages in there? Any chance that the ad schedule does not include weekends? Would be a rather comic situation, but who knows.

deborah w
October 2013

Profuse apologies; although this is just a PLA campaign, I still had to click on the "Ad" tab, which I must of paused in the past, to activate the campaign again (I thought I just paused the campaign).  Thanks for all your help, and kind regards

AdWiser Top Contributor
October 2013

That is somewhat strange. Product listing ads should run without promotions (their specific ads) and I assume they should run even if you pause a promotion. It's the ad groups and the product targets that have to be enabled.


Disregarding this aspect, is your campaign running now?