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7 Ways To Make Your Ad Accounts Sparkle

by Sam Tomlinson
May 20, 2024

In the spirit of the season, I’ve been helping many clients with “Spring Cleaning” (read: audits/reviews) of their ad accounts….which led to some searches, and quite a few interesting AI Overviews (the topic for next week’s newsletter): 

But, for this week, we’re going to talk about ad accounts (primarily Meta & Google) – and more specifically, the seven biggest issues/opportunities I’ve seen after more than a few weeks of “Spring Cleaning.” 

Let’s dive in: 

1. Data Passback & Validation: 

Here’s a harsh truth: the vast majority of advertisers are not taking full advantage of the data passback functionalities offered by major ad platforms. Any campaign that bids on something other than the optimal target is deploying capital suboptimally – even if performance is the same, the risk profile of bidding on (for example) form submissions instead of MQLs/SQLs raises the cost of that campaign (risk isn’t free!). 

According to Optmyzr’s data, less than 20% of their client accounts (itself a more sophisticated sub-set of all Google Ads Accounts) used offline conversions. In our evaluations and audits, that number is likely closer to 5-10% of accounts. 

That’s insane. 

The single most impactful change you can make to your ad accounts – Meta or Google – is to ensure they are integrated to your CRM or CDP. The value created through this single action is only going to increase as the website is disintermediated from outcomes. We’re already seeing the first impacts of that in eCommerce, where IG + TikTok Shops, Fermat-style custom commerce, retail media and other third-parties are lopping off segments of website converters. This is going to accelerate and proliferate across the digital ecosystem. Websites will become less valuable.  

The logical response to this is to ensure that your source of truth (CRM, CDP) is able to connect directly to the platforms responsible for driving your pipeline/customer base. As tracking gets more convoluted, as a browsers become more “privacy compliant” (which is a farce, but people are gullible), as tech giants like Apple invent ever-more-creative ways to disrupt other advertising platforms (except their own, for reasons), the one thing none of them can touch is the unique identity of the actual customer/client.

To be candid, there’s a reason Google is looking to acquire HubSpot – and it’s not because they like the logo or the content on their blog. It’s because Google knows what comes next – and HubSpot is the ideal tool to conquer a larger slice of the ecosystem. 

In addition to actually using CAPI + Offline Conversions, the other GLARING issue is a lack of data validation. Put simply, i’ve reviewed far too many ad accounts where: 

  1. Events simply were not tracking, or were tracking inaccurately (for example, “Add To Cart” events firing on every button click, “Update Cart” events counting as purchases, “Form_Submit” events firing on every single form, from a newsletter to a demo request to an inquiry, etc.) 
  2. Events that should not be used for optimization were used for Optimization – I even saw a B2B SaaS company optimizing off of “Store Visits”. Check your events in the “Conversions” tab of Google, please! 
  3. Website data / tags were not properly configured, resulting in “dark zones” of the site where users simply were not tracked. Bonus (negative) points if those pages are your landing pages. 
  4. Events that were double or triple counting – which absolutely destroys the ability of the smart bidding strategies used by Google + Meta to optimize. 
  5. Check your attribution settings, too. Far too many Meta Advertisers are being scammed with 1 Day View attribution. If you’re not sure, compare your attribution settings

Make a point to check your tracking + data connectivity. Validate your conversion events.

2. Audience Research

I’m constantly amazed (in a bad way) at how many ad accounts were configured a decade ago, then simply maintained. Audience research is absolutely, positively critical – but it’s a pain in the rear to do, so it doesn’t get done. The brutally honest truth is this: failure to know your audience likely results in more wasted spend than poorly-configured ad accounts. 

No one wants to admit it, but that’s the reality. Show me a high-performing ad account, and I’ll show you an ad account managed by people who are obsessed with iterative, ongoing customer insights work. 

This doesn’t have to be doctorate-level work, and it doesn’t have to be a research project. If you’re not sure how to get started: 

  1. SparkToro – there’s no better platform for understanding how, where and from whom your audience gets their information. It’s phenomenal – hands down the best $39 (or whatever) we spend every month. 
  2. Google Search – I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re not searching your primary keywords regularly (weekly, monthly), you’re not managing an account. SERPs are the clearest and best indicator we have as to how Google thinks users want to receive information for a given query – and if you don’t know what’s on those SERPs, you’re at a disadvantage. 
  3. Website/Customer Surveys – this is the EASIEST thing in the world to do, but so few brands actually do it: send or serve surveys to your customers or potential customers. Ask them what they liked, didn’t like, why they bought, what benefits appealed to them – all of it. Create a Google sheet, plop each response down in its own row (thanks, Zapier) and in a month’s time, you’ll have a veritable goldmine of customer insight nuggets. Take them + use for creative inspiration, product positioning, R&D, UI/UX optimization, FAQ content, whatever. 
  4. Heatmaps – Most marketers are visual, not quantitative. Heatmaps blend the two – the combination of data visualization (from a heatmap provider) + qualitative insights (from your surveys) is incredibly powerful. 
  5. Moz/SEMRush/AHRefs – We use SEMRush + Brightedge, and both are superb –but the truth is, they all mostly do the same thing, and they all mostly do it at a comparable level. The other truth is they are woefully underutilized by most marketers (in-house + agency). If you have these platforms, you should be conducting new KW research on a regular basis (weekly, monthly) – along with identifying + tracking changes in search volume. Often the most meaningful shifts in user behavior aren’t net-new keywords, but rather shifts in distributions – indicating people are searching differently, or asking more precise questions, or wanting answers vs. links. The other thing worth tracking is competitor branded volume: if a specific competitor’s search volume starts to spike, that’s a good indicator that (a) they’re finding some success + (b) you might want to go do more competitive research. 

At the end of the day, if you don’t know your audience at a deep, personal level, you’re not going to be able to optimize your ad account. So much time and money could be saved by just doing this boring audience research BEFORE trying to go make shiny ad creatives or dump every keyword known to mankind into your ad account. 

3. Overly Broad Targeting

This one is going to make some people upset, but I’m seeing far too many accounts using “broad” targeting – both on Google + on Meta. 

Don’t get me wrong: Broad has a place. It can be immensely valuable for brands looking to scale or to reach new audiences. It can help brands searching for the right keywords identify high-value, long-tail terms they’d have otherwise missed. It’s like pasta: it’s relatively easy to do, generally good enough, and can be (in the hands of a skilled chef) absolutely transformational. But…in the wrong hands, or in the wrong context, or if executed poorly, it can also be an overcooked salty gelatinous mess.  

I’m not going to bash broad targeting, because I think it has a place in many (but not all) accounts, and, if deployed correctly, can be fantastic. 

But the number of accounts I see where broad is the only strategy used is mind-blowing. A small budget, niche account doesn’t need broad targeting – especially when using broad results in dollars that should be going to core keywords or core audiences instead going to non-relevant/exploratory keywords/audiences. That’s a suboptimal allocation of resources that could be easily averted by understanding the client, the budget and the appropriate use cases of broad targeting. 

4. Exclusions

Most accounts don’t have nearly enough exclusions in them – whether that’s keywords (remember, negative keyword match types don’t work the same way as positive keywords) or audiences (how, in the year of our Lord 2024, are Prospecting Ad Sets still not excluding current customers? How?)

In an era dominated by automation and a removal of traditional control levers, exclusions are more powerful than inclusions – and they are still (somehow) underutilized. Review your search terms report (or have ChatGPT/Gemini do it for you). Build + exclude irrelevant audiences (like job seekers, or current customers, or employees) from your campaigns.

Every exclusion you put in place helps to increase the probability that every dollar you’re investing goes where you intend. It’s really that simple. 

Yes, making exclusions is a pain. No, no-one enjoys pouring over 2,529 search terms to find the irrelevant ones. But the impact of doing it is massive: not only does it avoid wasted spend, but it also trains the machine on what you want (and what you don’t).

5. Ad Copy, Ad Copy, Ad Copy

Every ad account I’ve reviewed in the past few weeks has been awash in humdrum, utterly generic copy. News flash: no one wants to learn more. No one cares about your emoji-laden self-congratulatory primary text. Everyone can tell that you had ChatGPT write those headlines. 

The simple reality is that every platform is finding ways to incorporate GenAI tools into their ad creation process – whether it’s Google’s AI Campaign Assistant, or Meta’s “AI Copy” tool, or LinkedIn’s not-at-all-helpful AI widget. The inevitable outcome from this is that more ads will sound more alike – because more ads will be written by LLMs that are (fundamentally) pattern-replicating parrots. 

What’s the solution? 

Obsess about your ad copy. Write something worth clicking on. 

The value of truly creative, original, out-of-the-box copy has never been higher – and it’s only going up.

6. Experimentation

I’m constantly blown away by how few accounts actually use the (fantastic) experimental features put out by Google + Meta. These are some of the most powerful tools for determining what works (and what doesn’t) – and they go untouched. 

    Use Experiments. If you’re testing ad copy in Google, use Variants. 

    Not sure what to test? Here are a few ideas:

    • Audiences 
    • Keywords / Match Types (experiment with Broad vs. Exact)
    • Ad Copy (use Variants on Google)
    • Bidding Strategies
    • Offers/Angles

    The options are near-endless. Most of these won’t produce a major return, but some will give you transformational insights that can unlock new levels of growth. 

    On Meta, lean into DCTs (we use 3-2-2): 3 creative assets, 2 headlines, 2 primary texts. Find the best performers, grab the post ID, and move them into a “winners” campaign or ad set. Document the characteristics of the winners + the losers, then use that to inform new rounds of creative testing. 

    Finally: don’t limit yourself to “standard” tests – take bigger swings. Test different offers. Test new angles. Experiment with radically different kinds of creative. At the end of the day, we’re testing in order to grow businesses, not to pass statistical muster. 

    7. Obsess About Strategic Management, Not Checklist Management

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves – and one of the most common things I see in agency-run ad accounts: checklist management. The hallmarks of this are junior-level (maybe senior-level) people going in and dismissing recommendations, excluding clearly irrelevant keywords, tweaking budgets, adding new audiences regularly.

    They check the box, come back next week, rinse and repeat. Don’t look too big or too broad. Just check the box.

    Don’t get me wrong – all of those are activities that should be done in an ad account – but the focus, the time, the energy should be spent on the bigger strategic levers:

    -Overall account structure

    -Ad copy testing

    -Data passback + optimization

    -Experiments + variants

    -Keyword research

    -Offer / Positioning

    -Competitive Research

    -Efficiency targets / performance targets

    Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing inherently wrong with a checklist. We have them. We use them. They are helpful tools. 

    But checklists aren’t the evaluation framework – they’re one part of a larger system that maximizes the probability of the account staying on-track. This is no different than GPS or lane departure warnings for a car: they are systems that support the driver (the account manager or agency) in guiding the vehicle to the destination.

    I would never report to a client that we made 8,924 or 153 or 726 changes in an account this week – because it doesn’t matter. But over the past few weeks, I’ve seen far too many reports from agencies proudly declaring that they made X changes to the account or added Y new keywords (obviously very proud of themselves) – all while the overall strategic direction of the account floundered. Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic isn’t a noble pursuit, it’s stupid. 

    When accountability is placed based on the tasks + checklists instead of the strategic + the results – that’s the beginning of the end for that account’s performance. Every time.

    Strategy must evolve or your account will die. 80% of your effort should be dedicated to those big, powerful strategic levers, because those are what will transform your account. 

    Happy Spring Cleaning!



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