12 Google Ad Tips For SMEs

Google Ad Recommendations for SMEs

If you’re a SME (small or medium sized enterprise) running your own Google Ads account, it can sometimes feel like a bit of a mine field. In between juggling your day-to-day responsibilities, you’re also expected to keep up with the latest platform changes, optimise your campaigns effectively and keep expanding your account reach. Where do you even start?

This blog is designed to cut through the noise and identify key tasks and areas which you should be focusing on to improve the performance of your Google Ads account. Whilst the joy, and often challenge, of PPC is that there is always work you can do to improve your account, some things rank higher on the level of importance. You don’t have to be a PPC expert to be able to successfully run your own account, but you do need to know what direction to take.

So here are 12 top tips for running a SME Google Ads account.

1. Get to Grips With Campaign Recommendations

Google Ads Recommendations are designed to help improve your campaigns, encourage you to try out new features and alert you to performance restricting issues such as budget limitations. Common Recommendations including adding new keywords, increasing campaign spend, amending settings and adding audience segments. Depending on your uptake/dismissal of these recommendations, your ‘Optimisation Score’ will fluctuate.

The Optimisation Score is Google’s estimate of how well you have set up your account/campaign to perform.

Ad Recommendations in Google Ads Manager
Above: Some of the Recommendations you may come across in your account


These features can be very helpful for identifying areas to improve and keeping up to date with the latest platform developments. However, there are two very important things to understand here: Recommendations will not always be relevant and your Optimisation Score does not determine actual performance.

Recommendations are not always going to be relevant as they do not have further context such as what your overall business goals and intent are, or your business limitations (budget, CRM data, account management time ect). A mistake which a lot of businesses make is applying all Recommendations they receive, without thoroughly understanding what is being changed in their account, or how relevant it may be for the business.

For example, accepting a Recommendation to increase spend to increase volume of leads may result in the algorithms pushing towards lead volume rather than quality. So whilst the number of leads you receive may increase, you may receive more spam/poor quality leads.

You should only apply Recommendations that are relevant to your account and business objective. Always ask yourself: can I afford these changes, are the suggestions relevant to the metrics which are important to me, do these changes reflect what I want to do with my campaigns and the target audience I want to reach?

If you’re ever unsure about what a Recommendation means and the support guides are not helping, then simply do not use them. It is better to not accept a Recommendation than accepting one which will be detrimental to your overall performance.

Similarly it is important to understand that you do not need to achieve a 100% Optimisation Score. In fact, if you dismiss a Recommendation your score will still go up regardless. The score itself does not determine your performance. Continue to manage, grow and optimise your campaigns in accordance with your business goals and objectives, and don’t worry about chasing a perfect Optimisation Score. 

2. Turn Off Auto-Applied Recommendations

An important setting to amend regarding Recommendations is to turn ‘Auto-Applied Recommendations’ off. If you have this option turned on, then Google Ads will be eligible to automatically apply some of its Recommendations to your account including amending Ad Copy, changing your Bid Strategy, adding new Keywords and updating your Conversion tracking.

As discussed above, Recommendations aren’t always going to be relevant or suitable for your account, so it is important to retain control by turning off this account level setting.

Open up the ‘Recommendations’ tab and click the ‘Auto-Apply’ icon at the top right hand side of your screen. 

Google Ads dashboard showing recommendations
Above: The ‘Auto-Apply’ setting in Google Ads

From here you opt in or out of automatic implementation of each of the different Recommendation types. We would recommend opting out of all of them, unless you feel that a Recommendation will be beneficial to the management and optimisation of your account.

3. SMEs Should Review Location Targeting

An all too common mistake in Google Ads accounts is the implementation of incorrect location targeting. You need to tell the campaign exactly where you want your campaigns to be eligible to show, for example a plumber who only operates in London or a clothing store which only delivers to the UK. If you don’t add location targeting your ads may be eligible to appear worldwide, resulting in a large amount of wasted spend and lost opportunities.

However, it is not enough to just tell Google Ads where you want to target, you also need to tell them the ‘criteria’ for who falls within these geographical locations.

Within your campaign location options you will find the option to target or exclude ‘Presense’ or ‘Presence and interest’. Here is where the difference between the two:

  • Presence – People who are in, or are regularly in your targeted location. For example: someone who lives in Wales.

  • Presence or interest – People who are in, or are regularly in your target location AND those who have shown an interest in your target location (for example someone who has been researching a destination they plan to travel to). For example, someone who lives in Wales and also someone from the US planning a trip to wales.


Location targeting option in Google Ads Manager
Above: Location Options including targeted locations


To help control the relevance and eligibility of the audience your ads reach, ensure you switch your location targeting to ‘Presence’, and also do the same for any location exclusions you may have. This will help to ensure your ads are being seen by people in the right geographical locations for your product or service.

Please note: If you are running a Smart campaign then you can not make amends to this setting. If you are seeing a large volume of geographically unsuitable traffic then it is recommended that you switch to a standard Search campaign so that you can apply the relevant location settings.

4. Turn Off Search Partners


Having Search Partners enabled means that your Search campaigns are eligible to appear on other results pages including directories and other non Google websites. These are often low quality placements, and advertisers have no control over where their ads are being placed.

Whilst there are ways to make this option perform more efficiently in your account, if you have limited time and experience to manage this then its best to switch this option off. 

Search Partners in Campaign Settings in Google Ads Manager
Above: Where to find the Search Partners option within your campaign settings


Open the campaign – Select ‘Settings’  – Open up the drop down menu box for ‘Networks’ – Deselect ‘Include Google Search Partners’.

Please note: If you are running a Smart campaign then you can not make amends to this setting. If you are unhappy with the performance you are seeing from Search Partner placements then you will need to switch to a standard Search campaign to be able to turn Search Partners off. 

5. Turn Off Display Expansion

Whilst on the topic of Networks – by default your Search Campaigns are also eligible to show on the Display Network. This opens up your Search ads to being shown on irrelevant, potentially very poor-quality websites and apps. It also means that the text of your ads can be used as ‘Display’ ads, without you being able to control how these ads appear. Therefore if you only want your ads to be showing in Search results, you will need to turn this option off.

Open the campaign – Select ‘Settings’  – Open up the drop down menu box for ‘Networks’ – Deselect ‘Include Google Display Network’.

The Display Network works best for advertisers who run a designated Display campaign with a strategic approach to targeting and Display assets. If you would like to explore Display Campaigns then please take your time to familarise yourself with the Network, including their default ad format, Responsive Display Ads. 

Please note: If you are running a Smart campaign then you can not make amends to this setting. If you are seeing that a large proportion of your budget is going onto the Display network, or if the performance from the expansion is unsatisfactory, you will need to switch to a standard Search campaign to be able to turn Search Partners off. 

6. Keep An Eye On In-Account Notifications

The Notification bar at the top of your screen is where you will be notified of any problems with your campaigns, any issues with your billing methods or announcements of platform features.

Despite the fact that it highlights important issues which could be affecting your performance we are all still quick to dismiss notifications or completely ignore them all together!

Whenever you log in into your account be sure to check out your Notifications. Most of the time they will just be new feature information or directing you to Recommendations, but sometimes they are of critical importance. Better safe than sorry! 

7. Complete the Advertiser Verification Process (When Requested)

Google Ads has an Advertiser Verification Programme. This is designed to validate identity and business operations, and ensure a safe and trustworthy ad ecosystem for all users. By verifying the identity of businesses advertising via Google, users can be reassured that they are engaging with a legitimate business. 

If you have received an email that you have selected to participate in the Advertiser Verification Programme, then don’t panic! It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with your account or business, but it does mean that you now have 30 days to initiate the verification and another 30 days to complete the process. 

It is very important to start the process as quickly as possible, otherwise your account will not be able to use your account. If the process has not been started within the first 30 days, then the account will be paused. Similarly, if the process is started but not completed within the 60 day time frame, then the account will be paused. If an account is paused then it can not run ads.

To complete the Verification Programme, you will be required to provide legal documentation verifying their business name and location, along with any other industry specific requirements.

If your business sits within a highly regulated industry, such as Healthcare and Financial Services, then you may be required to provide further evidence such as licences and accreditations. It may take some time to collect the evidence required and complete the process, so leaving it until the 29th day is not recommended.

Remember, this is not an optional process. The quicker you get it done, the quicker you can tick it off your list and carry on advertising!

8. Utilise Negative Keywords

Negative Keyword lists are a vital aspect of running Search Campaigns. They stop ads showing in irrelevant search results, and help to ensure that budget is spent effectively and ads are only being shown to people who are actually interested in the product/service you provide. They can be added at both campaign or ad group level.

The most efficient way of generating a Negative Keyword List is by reviewing your Search Term report. This report shows you what phrases and keywords were searched and resulted in your ads appearing. By looking through this you can identify irrelevant search terms which are triggering your ads, and then add them as a Negative Keyword.

For example, if you only offer new dog beds but see that your ads keep showing for ‘used dog beds’ then you should add ‘used’ as a Negative Keyword.

To access the Search Term Report, access a campaign, and in the sidebar open up ‘Insights and Reports’ and then select ‘Search Terms’.

An easy way to go through the process of reviewing the report is to download it as a Google Sheets document. Once you have then eliminated the findings down into keywords and phrases you want to eliminate, you can easily copy that list and add it to a Negative Keyword List section. You can find our Negative Keyword Lists by selecting ‘Tools’ in the left hand navigation bar and selecting ‘Exclusion lists’ under the ‘Shared library’ menu. 

Negative keywords section in Google Ads platform
Above: The Negative Keyword section in the Google Ads platform


Take a read of this Google Ads guide for more information on Negative Keywords.

9. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Ad Copy


If your ad copy is not appealing to your target audience, then they are unlikely to click through to your website to engage with your brand further. You could be offering the best product in the world, but if your ad copy isn’t appealing then you’re not going to be able to draw people in to find that out!

When it comes to writing ad copy it should not only be clear what your product/service is, but you should be getting across what makes you stand out from competitors. People need to understand why they should use you instead of another business. You need to promote your unique selling points (USPs).

Ways to highlight your USPs include:

  • Years’ of experience – Serving the Nottingham Area for Over 20 Years
  • Accreditations and certifications – Fully Accredited & Certified
  • Awards – Award Winning Hair Salon
  • Product range size – Over 5,000 Cars In Stock
  • Delivery options – Free Delivery On All Orders

10. Consider Running Ads on Microsoft Advertising

Whilst this is not technically a tip for Google Ads, it is important to remember that there are other Search Engines which offer a similar self-serve advertising platform. Expanding your efforts to include other platforms will allow you to reach people who do not use Google as their primary Search Engine. Not everyone uses Google!

Microsoft Advertising is very similar in design to  Google Ads, but is used to promote your ads in Bing searches instead of in Google results. It is quickly becoming a more popular PPC option, particularly as user volumes increase. In fact, according to Statista, in July 2023 9.19% of searches worldwide took place on Bing!

For more information on Microsoft Advertising, check out our blog on ‘8 Reasons Why You Should be Using Microsoft Advertising’.

11. Avoid Running Smart Campaigns

As tempting as it may be to choose a Smart campaign – a format designed to simplify the campaign creation process – if you want to retain better control over where your ads show, who they show to and how they appear, then you need to steer clear.

Smart campaigns can be incredibly quick and easy to set up, but that comes at the cost of not being able to do things such as only having your ads show in Search results, selecting which keywords your ads show for and choosing your own ad copy.  

Many SMEs who set up Smart campaigns find that their reach ends up being too broad for them to be effective, and with no option to change relevant settings, needing to go back to the drawing board and create standard Search campaigns instead. So save yourself the hassle, take the time and effort to create a standard Search campaign and access the full range of settings, targeting methods and features available to you.

12. Track Your Conversions

It is incredibly difficult to be able to understand how well your campaigns are performing if you’re not tracking Conversions generated through them. Whilst Impression and Click data gives you an indication of how well they have performed with regards to engagements, these metrics can’t tell you whether or not someone has completed a desired action on your website. Simply put, you won’t be able to tell if your Google Ad campaigns are worth the money.

Conversion data also allows you to get a better understanding of what is performing well and what isn’t in your account, facilitating more effective campaign optimisations. For example, if you can see that a particular campaign is outperforming others in terms of number of Conversions generated, then you may choose to assign more budget to that campaign.

If you are already using Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to track your overall website performance, then you can set up Conversions there. Then you simply need to link your GA4 and Google Ads accounts together, and import your GA4 Conversions directly into Google Ads. This method also means that you will be able to see Conversion performance for other sources such as organic and direct traffic. For more information on how to import GA4 goals into Google Ads, please see this guide.

Many SMBs will put off setting up Conversion tracking because it can be time consuming and tricky to get to grips with, but if you are going to be paying to run Google Ads campaigns, then it is worth doing so with a full view of how they perform!

If you need support with the management of your Google Ads account then get in touch today for a free 30 minute consultation.

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