Improve PPC Performance:
Intermediate Guide to PPC

This Brainy intermediate guide to PPC is packed with helpful advice on how to improve PPC performance. Find out what tactics to use to improve your PPC efforts with help from our award-winning PPC Brains, and sharpen your pay per click marketing skills for good.

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5,106 Words Till Next Level

Introduction: Beyond the PPC basics

Perhaps you’ve set up a few PPC campaigns in the past and feel like you know the basics, but how can you make your efforts go even further and generate sustainable ROI? Well, that’s what this guide is all about.

The Brains’ PPC experts are data-driven and fully dedicated to ensuring the success of our clients’ accounts. We understand that best practices around PPC are constantly shifting, and only by staying ahead of the curve can you ensure real success. So, if you want reliable, award-winning support that’ll propel your campaigns further than Millennium Falcon through hyperspace, we’ve got you covered. Welcome to intermediate PPC!

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Why choose this intermediate guide over any other? In our PPC academy, we’ve split out our guides to cover three core levels of knowledge, from beginner to expert. This guide slots in the middle, providing more than just theoretical knowledge without being overwhelmingly technical. We’ll cover step by step advice on how to develop and test intermediate PPC strategies, as well as giving you an insight into some of the most successful strategies we’ve implemented here at The Brains. Discussing some of our tried and tested PPC strategies that have gone on to win a number of awards, you’ll gain valuable insights and actionable tips for your own campaigns.

So, if you’d like to know some key aspects to consider when optimising your campaign structure, the importance of setting clearer CPA and ROAS objectives and so much more, let’s dive right in.

Chapter 1:

Optimise your PPC campaign structure

First on our list of things to discuss is optimising your campaign structure. While it sounds quite intuitive, it’s actually something that even the most experienced PPC specialists can struggle to get right.

Campaign structure optimisation is the process of iteratively improving and streamlining your set up in order to achieve the best results. This is a crucial part of paid marketing as it enables you to ensure your campaigns run efficiently, that you have a consistently low CPC and that you’re getting better ROAS. Optimising also helps you to understand how to ultimately replicate and scale your success.

Why is it important to optimise your campaign structure?

More than ever, the Google algorithm is being driven by AI. This has allowed PPC managers to focus more on data analysis and insight, and less on poor performing keywords and manual CPC bids.

However, with a rise in sophisticated platform features and AI comes the responsibility for PPC experts to make sure their accounts are equipped to handle this change. For the algorithm to efficiently optimise and collect data for campaign learning, PPC managers need to make sure they are following best practices for account and campaign structure.

With this in mind, here are four best-practice areas you’ll need to consider:


  1. Setting clear campaign KPIs.

    What do you want to achieve with your PPC campaigns? Are you measuring traffic or revenue, for example? To set clear KPIs, you should always separate your PPC campaigns and organise them by each individual goal to help you improve targeting and measure success.

    For example, if you’re running ads targeting branded keywords, you would separate this from your non-branded keyword campaigns.

  2. The purpose of audience intent.

    An optimised PPC campaign structure should follow the structure of your website as well as user intent. An optimised website will group pages by keywords and search intent. If a user searches ‘buy tennis shoes’, for example, they are likely searching with commercial intent and will therefore want to see commercial content that allows them to make a purchase. However, if they search ‘tennis shoes reviews’, they’ll be looking for more informational content.

    Your PPC campaign structure should align with this: your keywords should be grouped together in clusters that match the intent of the searcher and lead to a landing page that best suits their needs. This will help keep your campaigns as targeted as possible.

  3. Monitoring ongoing campaign performance.

    Optimising your campaign structure should be an ongoing process. You should be able to use your results to find what’s not working and what’s performing well in order to adjust your strategy accordingly.

    For example, if one ad group in your campaign is clearly outperforming the other ad groups, it may be better to dedicate an entire campaign to this group. Otherwise, you run the risk that your other ad groups will not have sufficient budget, leading to poor performance. In this scenario, it could be wiser to dedicate an entire campaign to the best performing ad group, and pause the existing ad group in the original campaign. This ensures that all ad groups in the existing campaign can perform to their full potential.

  4. Align with your marketing funnel.

    There are multiple steps along any customer journey, ranging from an awareness of a problem and a consideration of a solution, right the way through to a conversion. Each of these stages (and every stage in between) plays an important role in any marketing campaign.

    Whilst many specialists focus on commercial-intent keywords at the bottom of their marketing funnel, it is important to keep top funnel keywords in the campaign in order to create a full-funnel marketing strategy. If you are only targeting bottom funnel campaigns, you might be losing out on potential customers that are in their research phase and need some more information before converting.

    For example, if your website happens to have a great resource section, use this to your advantage. Targeting resource pages and keywords which indicate that the user is in their research phase can help you drive highly relevant traffic for a fraction of the cost. Why? Because other advertisers won’t be bidding on these keywords! The most competitive keywords will most often be commercial. Using less competitive keywords can also help fuel your first party data generation, and you can use this for other digital marketing campaigns as well as remarketing – it’s a win-win!

    A word of warning, however: It’s important to take care when streamlining your campaigns by customer journey – especially if you are using last click attribution for conversion tracking, as this means there is very little visibility on how top funnel keywords are helping performance.

Chapter 2:

Set clearer CPA or ROAS targets

ROAS (return on advertising spend) refers to any revenue generated from the cost of advertising. So, a consistently increasing numerical ROAS value indicates that your PPC campaigns are performing well as they are generating profits.

CPA, or cost per action, is calculated by dividing the total cost of an ad by the number of conversions. So, if you spent £100 on an ad and received 50 conversions, your CPA would be £2. Setting clear CPA and ROAS targets is crucial for any PPC campaign, because these metrics will help you generate the most optimum results within your budget.

Without clear targets, it will be difficult to a) understand what’s driving results and b) learn how to iteratively improve your process.

Read on to find out how our PPC team here at The Brains build CPA and ROAS goal-setting into their award-winning PPC campaigns.

  1. Calculate your ‘break even’ pointFirstly, it’s important to consider the KPIs of your PPC campaign and use these to set achievable and measurable targets. For example, if your current cost per acquisition is £100, it wouldn’t be realistic to set a £20 CPA goal. You will need to take into account your expenses and profit margins in order to set a break-even point. Then you will be able to calculate your return on investment.
  2. Factor in Customer Lifetime ValueWhen setting your CPA or ROAS targets, it is also important to take into account customer lifetime value (LTV) – an estimation of the amount of money a potential customer is likely to spend with your company in their lifetime. When comparing one campaign with another, you’ll need to look at more than just cost per conversion and conversion rates. If one campaign generates fewer conversions at a higher CPA, but the customers it generates spend more money and remain loyal buyers, this would be a more successful campaign than one with a lower CPA from lower-value customers.

    In other words, if you spend £100 acquiring a customer that spends £3000 with your company over their lifetime, then it might be worth acquiring the customer at a loss initially, as it’s likely that you will recoup these profits due to the overall LTV of the customer.

    A common mistake made by even experienced PPC specialists is to focus on the initial cost per sign up or initial cost of purchase. However, if customers from this campaign become loyal, repeat purchasers, it is worth investing more to acquire them.

  3. Understand the auction environmentWhen setting up goals it is important to understand the auction environment of your industry in order to set realistic expectations. In some markets such as finance or SaaS, It’s not uncommon for top-position CPCs to be as high as £100. So, you’ll need to take this into account when setting your targets – and while there are ways in which you can make smaller budgets perform effectively, a larger budget can be a key success factor in PPC campaigns.

    Put simply, if your cost per click is £10 and you set your budget at £20 per day, you will receive a maximum of two clicks a day – which is not enough traffic to generate results. In this scenario, even the most experienced PPC expert will be unable to drive significant results without a more reasonable budget.

  4. Be willing to experimentWhen setting your initial CPAs and ROAS targets, you should bear in mind these may shift over time. It’s likely you will need to begin with a higher target CPA and a larger budget until you are able to gather more information and learn where to optimise your campaigns. This is because with more budget, you can send a higher volume of traffic to your site, enabling you to learn faster what works well and what doesn’t. Google AI and smart bidding works more effectively and can learn more quickly when it has access to large amounts of data.
  5. Measuring PPC resultsLastly, it is important to also measure results on an ongoing basis in order to set future CPA and ROAS targets. Often, we see PPC specialists operating with large-scale budgets that haven’t set up adequate conversion tracking – and that’s a big mistake.

    These specialists understand that when they increase their budget, they receive more click-throughs and more leads. However, they are unaware of which keywords and ads are leading to those conversions, making it difficult to improve results sustainably.

Tracking and measuring results at a more granular level will help you understand exactly what’s working and eliminate wastage in order to make any budget work as efficiently as possible and to increase ROI.

We recommend that you track all important interactions on your website. You can have one or two primary conversion actions such as sale or lead form submission, but it can be useful to also track newsletter sign ups, downloads, live chat interactions, etc. These secondary conversion actions will give you full visibility in terms of how users are interacting with your website to help inform your future strategic decisions.

Tracking results on an eCommerce website is usually more straightforward than for businesses that use their Google Ads solely for lead generation. If you’re B2B and want to close the loop between the lead and sale and learn which campaigns are generating the best deals, consider investing into CRM such as Hubspot.

If you aren’t yet tracking your ROI from leads generated from Google Ads, consider creating a simple spreadsheet like this one:





Leads Conversion Rate


Conversion Rate (lead to sale)

Actual Sales

Average Sale Value


Profit Margin


Return on investment

Return on investment %

Month 1














Month 2














Month 3














You can see the formulas here:

improve ppc performance - The Brains

Adding your monthly budget or ad spend, average cost per click, number of clicks and conversion rate will calculate how many leads you generate. However, to calculate your ROI you need to also add the conversion rate from lead to sale, the average sale value or lifetime customer value to understand how much revenue your ads are bringing. Add your profit margins and calculate profit. Then use standard ROI formula = Profit / cost of investment x 100 to calculate your ROI.

Chapter 3:

Utilise Responsive Search Ads to improve your PPC campaigns

As you might know already, Expanded Text Ads are no longer! As of July 2022, Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) have become the default ad type for Google Ads campaigns. So, if you still have Expanded Text Ads in your account, we recommend upgrading them to RSAs sooner rather than later. While you can still pause and resume Expanded Text Ads, you can no longer edit them.

Note: The other ad types currently available are Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs), which we will discuss briefly below.


Responsive Search Ads vs Dynamic Search Ads


Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs)


Save time: You no longer need to create hundreds of different ad groups to advertise all your products or services

Automated and relevant: Closely match with the search queries and intent

Lack of control: You do not decide the ad headlines

In short, Dynamic Search Ads automatically take relevant copy directly from your website to form your ad copy. DSAs are typically recommended for businesses with large websites or inventories. For example, they can be great for eCommerce sites because they will automatically match your site content with a specific search query, creating ad headlines based on these to maintain great relevance for users. Even if your website has thousands of listed products, you can use DSAs to target each one, instead of having to create loads of individual campaigns or ad groups. Quite the time saver, right?

DSAs are also useful for filling gaps between your keyword based campaigns, and can help you discover new converting keywords.

However, there is a downside: while you’ll still write your own descriptions, you have no control over your ad headlines. Some advertisers will therefore choose to avoid DSAs as they want to have full control over the message and their branding, which is understandable. When choosing the kinds of ads you’ll be using, consider whether having control over the creative elements will outweigh the potential gains in learning and performance that automated ads will bring.



Responsive Search Ads (RSAs)


Flexibility: Add up to 15 ad headlines

Testing and learning: Optimisation and testing is done automatically by machine learning technologies

Relevancy risk: Google can mix and match your headlines in any order or combination, so you must ensure that each headline is strong as a stand-alone and that it will make sense when mixed with others

No individual tracking: You cannot track how each ad variation performs

RSAs are created with a range of custom headings and descriptions that are written by PPC specialists. They use machine learning to optimise your approach over time and show the most relevant messaging to your target audience. Google’s AI will test every possible variation of ad copy and measure results in order to find the most successful combination of headings and descriptions. Basically, it does a lot of the work for you! You can add up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions for the platform to mix and match.

Of course, the biggest challenge that comes with RSAs is ensuring all your headlines make sense when they are mixed and matched together. Ideally, each headline needs to be strong on its own, but at the same time you want to make sure you’re getting a range of specific USPs across in your messaging.

Top Tip: Pin headlines to specific positions to ensure that this is always where they appear – e.g. first or last.

While RSAs are great for testing a bunch of variations at once, it does mean that you reduce your visibility in terms of performance monitoring. You won’t be able to analyse how each of your headline combinations performs – Google does this behind the scenes.

According to Google, RSAs usually need around 5,000 impressions in the “Google Search: Top” segment over 30 days to display a rating in the Performance column. Once this is achieved, your ad will receive a ‘Low’, ‘Good’ or ‘Best’ performance rating.

Top Tip: Replace the ‘low’ performing headlines or descriptions with new ones.

Implementing RSAs

RSAs are now the default, so implementing them is very simple. All you need to do is go to the selected ad group and navigate to the ads section within the navigation bar. Then, click the “+” symbol to add a variation. As mentioned, you can add up to 15 headlines for your selected keywords, and 4 descriptions. Google will provide recommendations too, so you can use these if you are struggling to come up with ideas.

You can have up to 3 responsive search ads per ad group. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, remember that just one can create 43,680 different ads! So, it’s probably enough to have just one per ad group – don’t go crazy.

Reporting on RSAs

Reporting on Responsive Search Ads is pretty straightforward. As with any other ad type, all the metrics you need will be visible – apart from information on which combinations are delivering the best results. So, you can’t exactly see the data behind the combinations; only the impressions themselves.

The usual ad stats, as shown in the screenshot below, will be visible:

improve ppc performance - The Brains
improve ppc performance - The Brains
improve ppc performance - The Brains
Chapter 4:

Layered audience targeting

Layered audience targeting is a smart way of honing in on the right audiences for your campaigns. Audiences are grouped depending on behaviours they have demonstrated or actions they have completed. The Google Ads platform will automatically recommend which audiences to add, or you can browse them and add them yourself.

You can either add your audience using observation or targeting settings.

Observation: This is essentially a way of gathering data about your prospects while your campaigns are still running, without affecting the reach of your ads. It is often best practice to run audiences on observation to get a clear picture of how they are performing, before moving onto more specific targeting. Once you have collected some data using the observation setting, you can adjust your bids so that you focus more on any audiences that are performing particularly well.

Targeting: Depending on the products or services you offer, you may wish to run search ads that only appear for specific audiences. In other words, your ads will be limited as to when they can appear, but will be more relevant to the audiences they appear in front of.

This option is not often used for search ads, however when running ads on display, discovery or video network, using this setting can help you ensure your ads are being shown to the ideal audiences.

Available audience options

  • Affinity: Google describes affinity audiences as “groups of people based on their lifestyles, buying habits and long-term interests”. You will be able to use a variety of affinity categories in Google Analytics and view different demographics such as pet lovers or sports enthusiasts. This helps you better understand your ideal target groups.
  • In-market: These people are quite literally ‘in the market’ for your product or service. Google will monitor how frequently the users are viewing and navigating around similar sites and online spaces to yours. This can be quite a lucrative audience segment as the users are likely ready to make a purchase, so it’s important to analyse your in-market audiences before they’re targeted by other advertisers in your industry if you want to get the best CPC.
  • Life events: Using user behaviour regarding life events for targeting. For example, people getting married soon might be targeted with wedding ring ads or ads for honeymoon destinations. Note that this feature can only be used for display network ads, not search ads.
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Tracking audiences

Once you’ve added your selected audiences to your campaigns, you’ll be able to see how they are performing. If you have proper conversion tracking set up, it’ll be even easier to view this in your campaign’s audience reports. This will also show clicks, CTR, impressions, conversions and CPC.

improve ppc performance - The Brains
Chapter 5:

Harness smart bidding strategies

Smart bidding is essentially a way to optimise your campaigns using machine learning. The Google Ad guidelines on smart bidding highlight target CPA, target ROAS, maximise conversions and maximise conversion value as key smart bidding strategies that companies should look to use when first getting started.

With smart bidding, Google is helping us PPC marketers out, once again, but we can’t just leave it in Google’s hands all the time. It’s important to develop a real understanding of the kinds of strategies you should be implementing in order to see real results and actually improve the performance of your campaigns in line with your KPIs – especially since smart bidding will be adjusting your bids for every auction.

Smart bidding vs automated bidding

Let’s go a little deeper into it: while automated bidding uses a set of rules to adjust your bids, smart bidding uses the same machine learning algorithm/approach to optimise your bidding strategy in every auction you are entered into, keeping in mind the strength of your ad, your budget and competitors within the auction. All smart bidding strategies are automated, yes, but not all automated bidding strategies are smart.

Here’s a little more info about smart bidding from Google and how it can relate to your business goals and campaign goals:

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How smart bidding strategies work

The first thing to note is that you’ll need conversion tracking enabled to use bidding strategies. We talk about conversion tracking in our PPC Beginner’s Guide, so you can find out more there. Also note that you can set up smart bidding strategies for single campaigns, which can be handy if you’re just looking to test it out.

Bidding strategies work by understanding your conversion goals and using machine learning to help you achieve them. Google will analyse the likelihood of your ad securing a better performance depending on a number of factors, and will then adjust the amount you bid on a certain keyword accordingly.

For example, your key goal might be for prospects to fill out a lead capture form on your website. If this is the case, Google will analyse which of your keywords are the most relevant and then adjust your bids depending on which will generate the most value. The ad groups using these keywords will therefore perform better in their auctions, resulting in more clicks and conversions for you!

Smart bidding is sometimes referred to as ‘auction-time bidding’, which essentially means adjusting a bid depending on particular contexts surrounding an auction. For example, Google can adjust according to device and location at each individual auction to support the performance of your bids.

Why use smart bidding?

So, what are the real benefits of smart bidding compared to manual bidding? Well, first things first, it can save you a heap of time, and ensures you are always making the most of each auction! However, some marketers remain hesitant to adopt this strategy as they feel they have better visibility and control with manual bidding. While this might be the case initially, in the long run, smart bidding actually assists your overall visibility. Google is able to use insights and other key information that you won’t necessarily have access to, helping you to optimise right from the offset rather than waiting to gather performance data. Smart bidding also allows Google to use data from your existing campaigns – so even if your latest campaign has no data, you can make the most of your bids at auction. It’s basically 24/7 optimisation.

Key bidding signals from Google

There are a number of things that Google will consider when automating your bids. These include:

Target CPA or ROAS

Location / location intent

Day of week / time of day

Remarketing list

Ad characteristics

Interface language


Operating system

Search query

Search network partner

Web placement

Site behaviour

Product attributes

Hotel and itinerary attributes

Price competitiveness


Chapter 6:

Effective PPC remarketing campaign strategies

Retargeting is a fantastic way to boost your ROI, and there are a number of different ways to approach it. Retargeting is essentially the practice of compiling new audiences based on those you have already approached with your ads. For example, a retargeting campaign might focus on users that have already purchased from you, encouraging them to become a repeat customer. Alternatively, you can generate an audience using other parameters such as browsing behaviour or specific ads they may have seen already.

To set up an effective remarketing campaign strategy, the first thing you’ll need is the data. You can use information gathered from Google Analytics to create your custom lists, categorising your users based on various different conditions. It goes without saying that the more remarketing lists you have, the better – but best practice is to ensure your data isn’t older than a year. Trends can change, you know!

When setting up your remarketing campaigns, you should also try to include a variety of different campaign types, such as search, discovery, and perhaps something visual too. This can help you to generate more data insights in terms of the interaction that each campaign type receives.

Your remarketing campaigns should also display a different message than the standard ad copy you are using. You don’t want your users to be seeing the same ad twice, and ideally you need to appeal to their new intention. For example, if a prospect has already visited your site but not yet made a purchase, you might use ad copy along the lines of: “Still thinking about buying <product>? There’s a limited-time offer waiting for you!”. Consider where they will be in the purchasing journey, and your messaging should facilitate their needs in the best way possible.

Understanding Attribution Models

Attribution is all about your customer journey, and understanding how and when users have interacted with your ads. By choosing different attribution models, you’re moving towards understanding how each ad plays a part in a conversion. This can allow you to optimise your campaigns further and, over time, generate better results.

For example, we often see that users discover businesses via PPC but only go on to convert later down the line, either directly or organically. If this is the case, how do your ads get the recognition for playing a part in the user’s awareness? Other times, a user might click on a general ad but then come back and convert later from a brand ad. In this scenario, which ad should get all the credit? This is where different models come into play – you can choose how your ad success is measured and therefore build up a clearer picture of what is truly driving your performance.

When it comes to attribution models, there are various types to choose from. Google lists these as follows:

  • Last click: Gives all credit to the last-clicked ad and corresponding keyword.
  • First click: Gives all credit to the first-clicked ad and corresponding keyword.
  • Linear: Distributes the credit equally across all ad interactions.
  • Time decay: Gives more credit to ad interactions that happened closer in time to the conversion.
  • Position-based: Gives 40% of credit to both the first and last ad interactions and corresponding keywords, with the remaining 20% spread out across the other ad interactions on the path.
  • Data-driven: Distributes credit for the conversion based on your past data for this conversion action, using your account’s data.

(Taken from:

Every business is different, and so is every PPC campaign. By understanding your users and how they interact with your ads, you can use relevant attribution models that correlate to your business goals, and that also help you to reach customers during the key stages of their purchasing journey, whatever they look like to you.


Chapter 7:

PPC glossary & next steps

Congratulations! You’ve now completed The Brains’ Intermediate Guide to PPC. Now it’s time to implement the strategies you’ve learned. Remember, the best way to hone your PPC skills is to put your knowledge to use and practice, practice, practice! Run your own tests and find what does and doesn’t work well for your business.

Check out The Brains’ PPC Glossary as a reference point for any terms used in this article. 

If you feel confident you’ve mastered the intermediate level and want to know how to take your campaigns to the next step, go ahead and take a look at our Advanced Guide to PPC.

Good luck and happy reading!

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