Online Advertising Answers: July 2022

Welcome to Online Advertising Answers. I don’t know about you but I obsessively give out digital marketing advice! So to double down, every month I reshare three questions I’ve answered here.

This month I look at how paid search optimises to keywords – both in terms of intent and how it’s really no different to social media advertising. I also recommend a tool that every website owner should use.

You asked, I answered. Simple.

Let’s dig in.


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This month’s questions are:

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Online Advertising Answers



Q: “How does Paid Search optimise?”

“It looks for the right keywords right? I get it for social as it optimises for audiences but how does paid search do any more than serve your ad when your keywords come up?


A: “It’s more or less the same for paid search for keywords as it is for audiences on paid social.

For example, if you target the keyword “Charity online shop” then Google Ads has to decide whether a search for “Cheap charity online shop” or “charity online shop trousers” etc will likely get you a click and then a conversion.

That’s equivalent to you targeting 28-year-old women who like charity shops on Facebook, and the Meta algorithm deciding which of that audience will be actually interested in your ads.

Neither Google Ads nor Facebook Ads are likely to show your ad to every possible person they could (unless your budget is incredibly high). Both make decisions based on whether or not you will get what you are paying for from your ad (eg clicks or conversions).

You’ll also be competing against other advertisers, so the likelihood of your ad doing the thing you want it to will be combined with your bid and that will decide whether your ad is shown or not. This works the same for both audiences and keywords.

Also, Google doesn’t solely think about keywords – it does know some things about visitors. At the very least where they are, what time of day it is, and what technology they are using. For some people, it will know more. But it can use all this audience info to optimise too.

You have to remember that “optimising” really means deciding which ad auctions an ad will be entered into.

So Facebook optimising ads is really:

  • FB looking at your targeting and using what it knows to guess which part of your targeting to focus on
  • Guessing how well your specific ad will work
  • Multiplying that guess by the amount you bid (eg your CPC, CPM etc)
  • Putting your ad in an auction against other advertisers it guesses might do well
  • Showing your ad when it seems like it has the best chance of making Facebook money (by getting you to pay)

Google Ads does the same thing.

Optimising doesn’t mean giving a keyword or audience to an advertiser, only a chance at it.


[This question was sent in via email]



Q: “How do I find out if there are more than one H2 tags on a webpage?


A: “Download a tool called Screaming Frog and use it to analyse your site. It’s free (up to 500 URLs) and will tell you so much useful stuff about your site (including pages with more than one H2 on it) that every website owner should download a copy.

Please note: I don’t have anything to do with it, it’s just a great tool.


[This originally appeared on Quora]




Q: “Are there situations when using more than 20-30 keywords per ad group is appropriate?”

“I am running some search campaigns on Bing, and as I am sure many of you know, Bing likes to recommend a hefty amount of keywords to add into a campaign. Some of which I think may be helpful, but these additions have increased the amount of keywords in my campaigns tremendously, and I always hear people say like “no more than 30 keywords per ad group” but in this case, if the ad copy is broad and covers the umbrella of the keywords within the campaign, does it matter if I go over?”


A: “If the potential intent for more than 30 keywords is very similar, then sure you could add more than that. This is very unlikely though, especially with the rules around exact match keywords having been loosened in recent years.

You say you have a broad ad copy so I understand your point that it should be useful for a broader set of keywords, but that’s not exactly the case. Ad groups should be organised by theme because Microsoft (Bing) are using those keywords (and any other targeting) to find the type of person who will respond to the ad in the way you are paying for (eg click on it or convert etc).

[Note: You add targeting, then the ad platform uses that to find a subset of people within that targeting who will respond to your ad. That’s how all online advertising works more or less.]

Each keyword you add will be a mix of intent – some ‘good’ (ie searches that are relevant to the purpose of your ad), and some ‘bad’ (i.e searches that are not relevant to the purpose of your ad). The more keywords you add, the more difficult it is for the algorithm to find the searches you actually want your ads to be delivered to.

For example, a plumber looking for customers runs ads that target both “pipes” and “toilets” as keywords. Both of these keywords can easily throw up searches that are unrelated to people needing a plumber (e.g. “smoking pipes” and “public toilets”). When Microsoft Ads are trying to optimise the plumber’s ads, they’ll be able to filter some out searches based on prior learnings. However, they’ll also have to take best guesses a lot of the time and because the possible off-topic searches for “pipes” and “toilets” are so different, they’ll be learning about these keywords almost entirely separately. For example, a search for “hash pipes” won’t help them narrow down searches that include the word “toilet” at all.

More learning time = more wasted budget. It also means more chance for an ad platform to give your ad a bad predicted CTR, which could mean it just stops showing it altogether.

So the more keywords you add, the harder it is for the Microsoft algorithm to work out who your ideal audience is. And the bigger the difference in the potential intent of your keywords is, the harder it is for the algorithm to work out who your ideal audience is (as it has to learn so much more).

And the reason why people recommend no more than 20-30 keywords in an ad set, is that the more keywords you have, the more likely there is to be a big difference in potential intent between your keywords.

So, in theory, if you have 30+ keywords with very similar potential intent then adding them to one ad set is fine. It’s just that it’s very unlikely this is the case.

Instead, what you should do is group your keywords by intent into ad sets, and use the same broad ad across them. See which ad set it works the best for, then try different ads in the ad sets it doesn’t work so well for.

And by the way – 30 keywords is generally recommended as the maximum. I would aim for more like 10-15 personally.


[This was originally on Reddit]



See you next month,