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Search Ads 360 Auction-time Bidding setup & tips

Search Ads 360 Auction-time bidding
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Google Ads Auction-time bidding is now available in Search Ads 360. After much beta testing, most advertisers saw on average a +15-30% improvement in conversions for the same/less ROI. By combining signals such as device, browser, language, location, time of day & more, Google can use this information to adjust your bids for every single search query. 

In this guide, we’ll show you how best to setup your tests for Search Ads 360 auction-time bidding, and we’ll also share some of our top tips that we’ve learnt along the way. You can find a lot of information directly from Google help here. This blog will contain some of the most important pieces of information to highlight, as well as information that Google doesn’t share. 

Before you start your Auction-time bidding test in Search Ads 360…

Things to remember

  • Auction-time bidding in Search Ads 360 is currently only available for Google Search campaigns, with a beta launching for Shopping campaigns soon.
  • It only works with Floodlight Conversions. So you can’t use any Google Analytics conversions for example.
  • Auto-tagging must be enabled in Google Ads to share floodlight conversions.
  • You need to grant access to share the Search Ads 360 conversions in Google Ads. Don’t forget this point, it’s easily done. You’ll be able to see the floodlight conversions from Search Ads 360 as a ‘conversion action set’ in Google Ads.
  • Make sure your campaigns aren’t ‘Limited by Budget’. This will massively affect the success rate of your test.
  • Auction-time bidding will overwrite any bids and bid adjustment settings that you try to manually set in the bidding strategy. You can still do this in the interface, but there is no point as Auction-time bidding will ignore these settings.
auction-time bids and bid adjustments can't be manually overwritten in Search Ads 360 or in Google Ads

Credit: Google Ads, 2019

We recommend running a Drafts & Experiment in Google Ads to run this test

Draft campaigns can be created in Google Ads and they will appear as new campaigns in Search Ads 360 once synced up. You can find the information you need on this here.

Using this method is by far the best way to understand if Auction-time bidding is working for you.

  • Choose a group of campaigns that have good conversion & click volumes, but aren’t your best performing campaigns.
    • This will ensure that you continue to deliver good performance during the test period, which should help limit the amount of panic and changes you will inevitably feel like making.
  • Setup a Draft & Experiment across your test campaigns.
    • This will help you to have a control campaign
    • Control Campaign: here you will use a standard Search Ads 360 bidding strategy
    • Experiment Campaign: here you will split the traffic 50/50 with the control campaigns. For this set, you will have a separate strategy using Auction-time bidding setup in Search Ads 360.

Activating the Auction-time bidding test in Search Ads 360…

Setup the bidding strategy

You have two options here, either create a new bidding strategy for your objective or navigate to an existing one.

Once you are in the bidding strategy view:

  • Click on the bidding strategy and then move to ‘Engine Features’ and check the box for “Auction-time bidding”.
  • Make sure that you select your goal to optimise.
  • Select your Experiment campaigns in the 3rd step.
  • Apply Target & Constraints, the same as your control campaigns.
  • That’s it!
Auction-time Search Ads 360

Credit: Google Ads, 2019

Label your Control and Experiment campaigns in Search Ads 360

  • Label your control campaigns with ‘Auction-time Control.
  • And your experiment campaigns with ‘Auction-time Experiment’.

Setup an Executive Report

With this, you’ll then be able to build an Executive Report using these labels to better visualise performance over time.

  • I’d recommend setting up a line graph with ‘Day’ as the dimension so that you can analyse the differences over time. You’ll be able to visualise the timescales of auction-time bidding’s learning methods much better with this view. It will also give you a deeper and more insightful understanding of your performance during the test.
Auction-time bidding exec report

Credit: Search Ads 360 Help, 2019

Reporting on your Auction-time bidding test in Search Ads 360…

Be patient. Give it time to learn & improve

Too often I’ve seen advertisers complain about the true value of auction time bidding. Most of the time, I’ve found that everyone is bought into the idea of auction-time bidding, but aren’t willing to be patient enough to see the returns. It’s this misunderstanding in expectation that usually means that your tests fail. Maybe we are spoilt. We expect results immediately, but it does take some time for the performance to materialise.

The timescales will vary by advertiser, your amount of account history, volume of clicks & conversions etc. But generally speaking, you’ll probably see the following patterns across your account:

  • 0-7 Days*
    • Auction-time bidding will do nothing. This is where it’s analysing the data and learning.

*this will change dependent on your conversion delay. For example, if typically takes 5 days for a user to convert (conversion delay) from click, then it could take up to 12 days to start working.

  • 7-40 Days
    • This is where you will see Auction-time bidding start to push volume and spend through the campaigns. This part is where advertisers start to panic.
    • What you will see is Auction-time start to spend significantly more than your control campaigns, and potentially drive a worse CPA/ROI than your control campaigns. It will be a sudden spike after about 7 days, but this will gradually come down over time. It’s a vital part of the learning process.
Auction-time bidding strategy constraints

Credit: Google Ads, 2019

  • 40+ Days
    • This is where you will start to see some performance improvements with Auction-time bidding.
    • Your spend will start to get closer to the control campaigns and your CPC will probably be slightly lower. Your Conversion Rate should be similar or slightly better than the control. A combination of all of this should demonstrate that Auction-time bidding is driving you better success as it starts to target more of the right people for your objectives.

It’s really only around 6 weeks later where you will start to see a “truer” view of performance using Auction-time bidding.

Auction time bidding FAQ

What is auction-time bidding?

Google Ads uses machine learning in Smart Bidding to set bids at the time of auction by using a wide range of signals that help it to predict performance. Google understands user context & intent and combines signals to help drive more value for advertisers. It anticipates when a conversion is likely to happen by analysing your account history, floodlight conversions and other signal combinations. By combining signals such as device, browser, language, location, time of day & more, Google can use this information to adjust your bids for every single search query.

What is auction-time bidding in Search Ads 360?

Auction-time bidding in Search Ads 360 means that you can “push” your Floodlight conversions from SA360 into your Google Ads account for use in Auction-time bidding. Essentially it’s the same as what has already been available in Google Ads, the only difference is that you can use your Search Ads 360 conversions for these Auction-time bidding strategies. You can now fuse these conversions with the power of Google Ads contextual signals.

Dan Roberts
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