How to take over an existing Google Ads account.

You’ve taken over a Google Ads account that’s in trouble. You're going to turn it around - more conversions, lower costs, 10 quality scores etc.

There’s a lot riding on getting this right. Maybe it's a brand new client and you want to show them that you’re better than their previous agency. Maybe you've just been hired or promoted. Maybe you’re giving your own account some overdue attention.

You're going to be a hero when you get this account rocketing.

But before you put on your cape, remember that it is possible to suffocate a struggling campaign by mistake while you're giving it mouth-to-mouth.

I saw this when I consulted with a local client, Nathan (not his real name). Nathan runs a successful ecommerce store. He sells the products he makes here on our tiny island to customers from all over the country. (We live on the Isle of Wight at the bottom end of England.)

Nathan contacted me after sales from his Google Ads dried up. He built his own campaign and saw promising results so he hired a freelancer to improve his early efforts.

The freelancer scrapped Nathan’s work and rebuilt the account from scratch. After two nail-biting weeks with no sales Nathan turned off the freelancer’s campaigns. He crossed his fingers and turned the campaign he'd built back on. The sales started flowing again.

Nathan asked me to audit the freelancer’s work and see what went wrong.

Her decisions were mostly sound.

  • She’d restructured a mess of keywords into tighter ad groups.
  • She’d written extra ads to split test the copy.
  • She’d chosen a sensible bidding strategy.
  • ...and a load of other changes...

On the surface everything she'd done was right. This was textbook stuff.

If there was one thing she was guilty of, it was doing too much too soon. It looked like she’d read a list of the top 25 ways to optimise Google Ads and decided to do them all at once.

But there was a bigger problem...

She hadn’t thought about how Nathan felt. She was so focussed on the technical aspects that she’d ignored the person behind the ads.

You don’t get called in to take over an account when it's rocking. You're there because it isn't working. The person behind the ads is unhappy, distrustful, anxious or plain not convinced that Google Ads works.

Anyone who's managed Google ads knows there is a period of turbulence after major changes. This is not the time for radio silence but that’s exactly what happened. She got her head down and started work.

She made an enormous number of changes in two weeks. But she didn’t let Nathan know what she was going to do, why she’d do it and what the likely outcome was. The only hint he had was an order book full of empty.

If she'd had a lighter touch and better human skills she'd have kept Nathan as a client forever.

Can I suggest an approach that'll help keep your client or boss comfortable with what you’re doing, and earn you respect as a professional.

It’s a mixture of technical and soft-touch human stuff. I’ve used it many times in the past.

  1. Don't fly blind
  2. Find a few easy wins.
  3. Decide on an overarching goal
  4. List the things you could do to get closer to the goal.
  5. Choose one tactic.

Step one. Don't fly blind.

Trainee pilots get "trust your instruments" beaten into them at flight school because of how many inexperienced pilots crashed when they trusted their senses instead of their instruments while flying through clouds.

Our boss or client might believe they've got a good gut feel for how well Google Ads is doing. My experience has been that this is seldom spot on. They always over - or under - estimate the value they derive from their PPC spend.

If you don’t have instruments - conversion tracking or analytics - you’re flying blind. Get these set up pronto.

And get them verified. It’s not hard to mess up conversion tracking, especially if there is a third party - a web designer or hosting company - involved.

  • If you’re doing ecommerce check that the conversion value matches the value of the sales over the same period.

  • If you’re doing lead generation check that the number of leads matches the number of conversions.

Step two. Find a few easy wins.

Easy wins are things you can change quickly without disrupting the flow of leads or sales. Fix them, and, more importantly, tell the person behind the ads what you've done. This is no time to be modest.

I can usually find a quick win in one of three places.

1. The geographic report. I’ve seen ads for a small local business aimed at the entire country. I’ve seen ads for a business that serves the entire UK shown to people in Nigeria and Uzbekistan. Fixing this is a quick win. It’s also something that a non-technical boss or client will understand and appreciate.

You start to look like you know what you're doing when you say "I noticed that you were paying Google to show ads to people in places where you don’t do business like China, India and Basingstoke. I've changed this so you only pay for clicks from people in places you serve. We'll apply some of the savings to getting more enquires."

2. The search terms report. Unless the previous manager was disciplined in policing the search terms report for negative keywords you’ll find that your client is paying for clicks that they don’t want.

Good things happen when you say "Mr plumber client. You paid Google for people looking for plumber memes, pictures of plumber’s bum and a job as a plumber’s apprentice. I’ve made sure you won’t waste money on those searches again."

3. The conversion process. If it’s a contact form, make sure that someone responds after you’ve filled it in. If it’s an online store, buy something as if you were a stranger visiting the site for the first time. Make sure it works as expected.

These small changes don’t risk making the campaign unstable. They’re quick easy wins that buy you credibility and time to make bigger changes.

Step three. Decide on an overarching goal for your first round of optimisation.

A campaigns can have one of four goals:

  1. Evaluation. You're testing the market to find out if Google Ads is a good fit for the business.

  2. Efficiency. You're attempting to reduce the cost per acquisition.

  3. Expansion. You're trying to increase the number of clicks because you expect more clicks will mean more conversions.

  4. Equilibrium. You're want to keep the campaign ticking over without major changes. This is unlikely to be the case if you’ve been brought in to troubleshoot.


There is no way a campaign can reach two goals at once. The tactics that advance one goal often impede the other. That means you need to pick just one. Don’t decide on your own. This is something that you should do with the person behind the ads.

Step four. List the things you could do to get closer to the goal.

For instance, if the goal was to get more clicks you’d might list some of the following as possible tactics:

  • Increase the daily budget.

  • Bid more aggressively to increase impression share.

  • Try automated bidding - perhaps maximise clicks.

  • Add new keywords to the campaign.

  • Use broader match types for your keywords - eg BMM or phrase match if you’d only had exact match keywords.

  • Test ad copy and extensions.

  • Test if having the ad shown higher on the page (closer to average position 1) resulted in a higher CTR.

  • etc.
..

Step five. Choose the one tactic that’s likely to get the most improvement in the shortest time.

You might feel like you should be doing much more than just one thing. Nathan's freelancer did. She tried everything and hoped something would work.

The problem with making lots of simultaneous changes is that it's impossible to tell exactly what caused an improvement or otherwise.

A light touch is better.

Once you’ve decided what tactic you’re going to apply you should document it. That might sound pretty formal, but keeping decent records of what you’ve done, why you did it and what the outcome was separates professionals from amateurs in this industry.

I use the lab-notebook system. I’ve written about it here. Let me give you a quick example.

Each significant change I make to a Google Ads account starts with a hypothesis. That's a statement of what I think might be the cause of the problem and what I think will happen if I make the change.

Here's my hypothesis from a recent campaign with a low CTR.

The campaign had a clickthrough rate of 2.94% over the last 3 months. The ads were shown at average position 4.2. I think that the low average position is the cause of the lower than expected CTR. I expect CTR to increase if the ads are shown in a better position.

If you’ve managed Google Ads for any length of time you’ll know that there is a pretty good chance showing your ads in a better position will increase the CTR. Like I said earlier, start with the change that’s most likely to have a positive effect.

I then list the method I'll follow to test the hypothesis.

I will increase bids at keyword level till the ads are showing at an average position of between 1 and 2.

Once we've had enough impressions to get a valid answer I'll write up the results. The CTR will have gone up, stayed the same or got worse. I've learned something either way.

I’ll go back to the list of possible changes and pick the next one. It’s rinse and repeat after that.

I used to document this in a collection of spreadsheets and Google docs but that didn't scale so I built Ad-Minister. It's a specialised tool for managing the work that goes into managing Google Ads accounts. Here's a screenshot showing how I recorded this change.

I regularly share my Ad-Minister records with my clients when we're discussing their accounts. The first time I did so I was worried that it'd lead to a bunch of questions and possibly even attempts at micro-managing. That fear was unfounded.

I think them seeing the way I work, and not just the end result, gives them more confidence and trust in me.

If you manage Google Ads - either for yourself, for your boss or for clients you're welcome to give it a try. Let me know once you've signed up and I'll credit your account with $100 worth of subscription fees.

Want higher conversion rates?

I’ve seen conversion rates double, triple and even 10X after a few quick and easy changes to the enquiry form.

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Resources for Google Ads agencies and freelancers.

Tools, reading lists and discussion groups for digital marketing agencies and freelancers offering Google Ads as a service.

How to take over an existing Google Ads account.

You’ve taken over a Google Ads account that’s in trouble. You're going to turn it around - more conversions, lower costs, 10 quality scores etc.

There’s a lot riding on getting this right...

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