SEM account management: How to improve account performance

Welcome to the second installment in my series on SEM account management. If you’re an SEM account manager and you’ve kept yourself from getting fired (see Part 1: How to avoid getting fired), you now have the opportunity and the time to focus on making your campaigns run like a top.

Smoothly running and decently performing SEM campaigns require getting three things right: tracking, targeting and a good user experience. If you can master these three areas, your campaigns will “deliver the goods” and get you conversions at a decent cost per acquisition (CPA), or sales at a solid return on ad spend (ROAS).


Tracking is everything. First, how can you spend thousands of dollars on your company’s behalf if you can’t track results to prove you were successful? Second, if you aren’t tracking results, then how can you optimize your campaigns by improving poor ads, favoring successful ads and using targeting methods such as keywords or demographic segments?

Tracking is often overlooked or not properly maintained; without it, in the long run, most organizations will not allow you to have a budget. And if you can’t prove your results, you will get a reputation as a “bad steward.”

If you’re using AdWords in combination with Google Analytics (GA), you have the luxury of using “autotagging,” where Google automatically appends a parameter with a string to all of your ads’ URLs. This unique string is a magical index number that allows GA and AdWords to look up dozens of pieces of information about the searcher’s click — city, browser, campaign, ad group, search term and so forth. It literally is a simple checkbox you enable (assuming you go through the multiple steps required to get GA to talk to AdWords as well, that’s a bit more of a challenge, as you need to set a few things on each end).

If instead you’re using Facebook (or LinkedIn Ads, or any Display advertising platform), since those are not Google products, autotagging is not an option; instead you must append “utm” codes for Google Analytics to interpret, on the end of each URL. This is a bit of a pain but is crucial. If you do this, you can slice and dice by campaign, source and medium in Google Analytics, and you will be able to perform attribution analyses — deciding how much credit to give early-funnel clicks versus later-funnel clicks.


There are numerous items that can cause tracking to fail and clicks to be credited instead to (not Set) in Google Analytics; we can’t cover all of them here, but the most common cause (other than neglecting to put tracking in place) is the presence of redirects.

Let’s say, for instance, that your website is configured to have all URLs end in a slash. If you accidentally put into your creative’s destination URL a version of the destination page’s URL that is missing the required slash, often your web server will automatically redirect the searcher to the correct URL. Great, what’s the problem? The problem is often that many web servers will not preserve parameters on the end of a URL in the presence of redirects. So if, for instance, you have an AdWords autotagging parameter on the end of the URL — after it’s redirected — poof, your autotagging parameter is gone, and the keyword will show as (not set) in Google Analytics. Similarly, for Facebook, you can lose your utm parameters. So redirects are the bane of SEM account managers. Check for them, and fix your destination URLs.

Targeting… and toilet seats

I’m partial to AdWords, so I like to talk about keywords as targets, but all of this applies to Facebook and other channels, say, with demographic or remarketing target audiences. Regardless of the channel, if your campaign targeting is poor, results will be poor.

For new SEM account managers, one of the most important things to get right is Google’s keyword “match types,” which define how searches will match against keywords. Defining a keyword with brackets, which represents exact match [nike shoes], will match on the query “nike shoes” but will not match on “blue nike shoes.” Phrase match with quotes “nike shoes” would match on both of those but would not match on “shoes nike.” Expanded broad match with pluses +nike +shoes would match on all of those but would not match on the related phrase “tennis shoes.” Using the keyword with no notation at all signifies broad match, e.g., nike shoes, which might match on all of those. Broad match is best to avoid where possible, although it can be useful as a method of keyword research, or if it’s used in combination with numerous negatives.

Many new SEM account managers ignore match types and throw keywords into an account, not realizing the default is broad match. True story: I audited an AdWords account a few years back for an advertising agency (a classic case of the cobbler’s stepchild; I’ve worked with several ad agencies to help them get their own leads). This agency was bidding, broad match, on perfectly reasonable terms like “advertising agency,” “marketing companies” and so forth. I pulled a “search query report” from AdWords to see what actual searches had matched on their keywords, and — I’m not making this up — they had paid recently for a click on the search “toilet seat.” How that matched on one of these terms, I can’t say.

So, if you don’t know what you’re doing, if you’re starting out, I recommend you use exact match and also the approach with the pluses. It allows the words to be in different orders and other words to be present, but it guarantees the words you have specified will be in the query. That should ensure you’re not bringing in anything too crazy.

Running search query reports on a regular basis, and then adding negatives to the account, is crucial in order to maintain account performance. Google’s matching algorithms seem to drift and change over time, as do searchers’ interests, so you will always see new queries appearing. But a well-managed account, in my experience, should have no more than 0.5 percent to 2 percent “Wasted Spend.”

Good user experience

If you’re driving people somewhere, that somewhere had better be pretty compelling. Google understands this and has built features into AdWords to favor good searcher experiences, focusing in particular on landing page relevance, performance and quality.

Landing page relevance

Relevance and a great user experience are critical in order to get people to take action. User experience is linked closely to targeting; if you’re targeting people with a particular interest or intent, then they probably deserve a dedicated landing page that speaks to their issues and concerns. If you’re targeting 3,000 keywords, how can one landing page possibly satisfy a wide range of concerns?

One rule of thumb, based on my field experience with several dozen clients over the years, is: have one landing page for every $1,000 of monthly spend. If you’re spending $500/month, then one landing page, or simply your site’s home page, or contact page, is probably adequate. If you’re spending $100,000/month, this rule of thumb suggests 100 landing pages. This can easily be achieved if your business is an e-commerce one where you’re sending people to multiple product pages; if you are doing lead generation with calls to action like “Download our free guide,” you should at least consider generating numerous landing page clones with different titles/copy on them.

Landing page performance

Performance is, in my opinion, about two things: the mobile experience and speed. Most landing pages look great on desktop, as that is where they were developed. But it’s critical to make sure that they are mobile-friendly. Many marketers are developing their landing pages as mobile-first, with the desktop version as the afterthought. Speed is also critical. Users have little patience and time, and Google, via its “Quality Score” mechanism, actually rewards you directly by discounting what you pay. Landing page load time is one component of Quality Score.

Landing page quality

Landing page quality means many things to many people, and there are numerous perspectives on this. Some things that can rapidly communicate quality to the viewer include endorsements/badges, the company’s name/address at the bottom of the screen and the presence or absence of a Privacy Policy and Terms of Service on the page. Note that of these, several of them are possible for Google to measure.

I have had several clients who failed to have a Privacy Policy on their landing pages. Their quality scores (QS) all capped out at 8 out of 10; several weeks after they added a Privacy Policy, quality scores improved in their accounts across the board, and suddenly their top terms (i.e., brand, due to high CTR, which is rewarded with a high QS)  moved from 8 to 10. So, although it’s not an aspect explicitly documented anywhere by Google, I’m convinced having a Privacy Policy is a key Quality signal Google relies on.

So, for landing pages, at a minimum, make sure:

  • they load.
  • there are no redirects.
  • they are fast.
  • they have a privacy policy.

If you ensure these four things, you have a good shot at having your landing pages perform at least adequately, and you can then focus on usability and messaging to increase conversions.


If, as an SEM Account manager, you focus on putting in place — and checking and maintaining — tracking, targeting and a good user experience, then your campaigns have a very good chance of succeeding. Then you have a good chance of moving the ball forward for your company, and your own career. In Part 3, we’ll run over how to get more responsibility.

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