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Google Smart Campaigns Vs Manual Campaigns

Google’s Smart Campaigns feature has garnered a lot of attention in the paid search advertising community. With any new feature comes a lot of speculation, but the potential impact of PPC automation through Smart Campaigns has created a debate between whether manual campaigns or Google’s Smart Display Campaigns are better.

While Smart Campaigns promise to improve ad performance and make the lives of PPC professionals easier, many seasoned experts are skeptical. Scrutinizing new tools is always a good idea, especially when it comes to automation and machine learning features.

Are Smart Campaigns really here to replace our manual PPC efforts?

Who Can Use Smart Campaigns?

Before we launch into this conversation, it’s important to first discuss the eligibility requirements of Google Smart Display Campaigns.

In order to enable this feature, you must have conversion tracking turned on. Smart Campaigns use conversion values to optimize bids and achieve the best results for the targeted goal.

Google also requires that campaigns “have gotten at least 50 conversions on the Display Network — or at least 100 conversions on the Search Network — in the last 30 days.”

The reason that Google sets this eligibility requirement is to ensure that there is enough campaign data for the machine learning capabilities to pull insights from and adjust properly. Without this data, it would be hard for Smart Campaigns to make accurate decisions.

How Do Smart Campaigns Function?

As mentioned, Smart Campaigns optimize PPC efforts according to a preset goal, such as return on ad spend or conversions. Then, the machine learning brain adjusts bids and ad placements to yield the best results towards achieving this goal.

Do Smart Campaigns Actually Work?

On paper, Smart Campaigns sound awesome. Optimizing campaigns for target goal performance and saving marketers time and effort; what could be wrong?

There are a number of limitations for Smart Campaigns. Some of these drawbacks are what cause some PPC experts to stick to their manual campaigns.

Loss of Control

The biggest gripe that Google Ads users have with Smart Campaigns is the control that they have to relinquish. Smart Campaigns automate many of the targeting and adjustment options that help marketers achieve the best results.

By putting the AI-powered tool in the driver’s seat, you no longer have the control to make these adjustments yourself. This includes device and network targeting options, bid adjustments, ad scheduling and more.

Budget Allocation

Smart Campaigns work within your budget constraints to try and yield the best results possible. While the machine learning engine can’t increase your budget, it does decide how you spend it. By handing over control of your budget, it becomes difficult to allocate ad spend to meet trending, seasonal or local topics that are gaining traction.

Many marketers feel that the Smart Campaign algorithm doesn’t spend the budget as well as they can, which creates this disconnect between what people are promised with Smart Campaigns, and what they actually receive.

Maturation Time

Google’s eligibility requirements for Smart Campaigns give the AI the minimum amount of data possible to provide viable results. But, more data is always better. If you’re a newer Google Ads user, it may take some time for your campaign data to mature to the point that the Smart Campaigns are able to really provide excellent ad performance.

This is a big drawback for Smart Campaigns because many PPC users suggest that these automated campaigns are the best option for newer businesses that don’t have a full understanding of the best-paid search advertising practices. These are also the users with the least amount of data available.

3 Times When Manual Campaigns Are A Must

There are times when the choice is very clearly in favor of manual campaigns.

  1. If you’re new to Google Ads: New users won’t have the eligibility requirements. This is actually a positive, as it ensures that everyone operating PPC campaigns, whether smart or manual, has, at the very least, a basic understanding of the metrics and best practices involved.
  2. Seasonal or local keywords: Manual campaigns are better suited for seasonal or local campaigns because it is often necessary to adjust bids more aggressively than other PPC campaigns. And, there may not be a lot of data available for a smart campaign to optimize correctly.
  3. Control is necessary: If you must have control over campaign settings and targeting options, then you have to rely on manual campaigns.

3 Times When Smart Campaigns Are A Must

Alternatively, there are three times when a Smart Campaign is the superior option:

  1. You have limited time or PPC experience: If you don’t have the know-how or time to really unlock all of the potentials of PPC marketing, relying on Google’s Smart Campaign feature is a good option.
  2. You want to test a lot of ad copy: Smart Campaigns ask for different ad headlines and descriptions. It then tests different combinations together to find the best results. You can see a report that showcases which ad components work the best, which really helps simplify ad testing.
  3. Manual campaigns are suffering: If you aren’t achieving the right results with manual campaigns, experimenting with Smart Campaigns can open the door to new opportunities.

Deciding What’s Right For Your Business

There isn’t a universal right answer for choosing between Smart Campaigns or manual campaigns. Businesses need to decide for themselves which option is best. Alternatively, some PPC professionals utilize a mix of AI-enabled campaigns and manual ones.

The best way to make the right choice is to test Smart Campaigns for yourself. Start out small and test a Smart Campaign for a month or so. Are you achieving better results than your manual campaigns? Are the results close to your manual efforts?

You may want to test smart campaigns longer than a month and see if the results improve as your data and the AI engine matures. Also, take the time to test different campaign goals or other Smart Campaign options.

Remember to evaluate how much time your smart campaigns are saving you. A small dip in campaign performance may be worth it, if you’re saving hours each week on managing your PPC campaigns. This free time could be helping you unlock value in other areas!

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