What Does 2 Years of AdWords Optimization Look Like?

by Aden Andrus November 21, 2016

Sometimes, when it comes to AdWords optimization, it’s easy to get fixated on looking for big overnight wins.

But, while many AdWords accounts are so poorly managed and designed that a few simple tweaks will produce massive results, things aren’t always that easy.

What do you do for an account that is already set up for success? How do you keep improving things after you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit?

At this point, AdWords optimization changes from a story of epic success to one of quiet, consistent improvement. It’s not as flashy as the typical “big win” stories you see plastered all over the internet, but it’s a story that is just as important to the success of your business.

To illustrate this, let me tell you the story of a client we have been working with for the past 2 years:

The Client

Like Disruptive, this client is a digital marketing agency. Now, as you might imagine, digital marketing is a pretty competitive industry, so to preserve this client’s privacy, we’ll just refer to them as “The Client.”

Oh, and before you start wondering if “The Client” is actually Disruptive Advertising in disguise, let me reassure you, it’s not us. Disruptive just happens to be good enough at what we do that other digital agencies come to us on a regular basis and ask us to manage their online advertising.

Anyways, this particular marketing agency was primarily focused on providing social media management and search engine optimization (SEO) services for small businesses. Since pay-per-click advertising was a little out of their wheelhouse, they asked us to set up and run an AdWords account for them.

Exploring Our Options

Since The Client was a B2B business, we knew that we had a fairly substantial lifetime value. That gave us a little wiggle room to play around with while we dialed in our marketing strategy.

So, for most of the first year, we were in exploratory mode.

We tried scores of keywords on paid search, experimented with the Google Display Network, crafted remarketing campaigns, played around with Gmail-sponsored promotions (GSPs), built remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) audiences…you get the idea.

And, it worked! Clicks went up 487% and leads increased b7 3.43x.

AdWords Optimization – The Exploratory Period | Disruptive Advertising

Not bad, right? Sure, it took us 10 months of exploration and testing, but the results were worth it.

Refining Our Channels

At this point, we probably could have put things on coast. The client was happy with their results, we were happy with their results, but we weren’t being paid to sit on our hands.

So, we started looking for opportunities to improve performance.

At this point, we had enough data to really have a feel for how each channel was performing. We started going through the data and discovered that while many of our campaigns were driving leads, not all of those leads were created equal.

For example, paid search produced a ton of high quality clicks that had a high chance of converting into leads. Display Network clicks, on the other hand, were largely a waste of money…

After filtering through everything, we discovered that most of the value was coming through our paid search ads and remarketing campaigns. Over time, we slowly dialed everything else back until the bulk of our ad spend was focused on those two channels.

As a result, our click volume dropped by about 23%…but our lead volume stayed about the same:

AdWords Optimization – The Refining Period | Disruptive Advertising

Since we were no longer paying for the wrong clicks, our cost-per-lead dropped by 13%!

Again, it took consistent effort to identify our top campaigns and whittle down our marketing to the right channels, but the work paid off.

Optimizing Our Keywords

Once we had refined our advertising strategy down to paid search and remarketing, it was time to really make the most of those channels.

After taking another look at the results we were driving, we discovered that some keywords produced leads that were easy for the client to close, while others seemed to produce much less interesting leads.

To address this, we began evaluating, testing and eliminating keywords. Over the next 10 months, we whittled our keyword list down from 122 keywords to a mere 13 All-Star terms.

At first glance, this might seem like a counterintuitive strategy, but by narrowing our keyword list down to our top performers, we were able to maximize impression share on those keywords and get them to consistently rank right where we needed them to be.

As a result, conversion volume dropped about 10%, but the conversions we were losing were low-quality leads. Even more importantly, however, total ad spend dropped by 43%.

AdWords Optimization – The Dialing It In Period | Disruptive Advertising

All together, that meant we were spending 32% less per lead and we were only driving the highest quality leads!

Putting it All Together

Over the past 2 years, there have been 3 basic phases to improving this client’s AdWords account: exploration, refinement and optimization.

What Does 24 Months of AdWords Optimization Look Like? | Disruptive Advertising

The account was set up right to begin with, which made it profitable at every stage, but the sum result of 2 years of effort was an account that drives 2.17x more leads (and the highest quality leads at that) for just 67% more ad spend.

Of course, a lot more went into this story than the elements we’ve discussed. Without countless ad and landing page tweaks, the results probably wouldn’t have been nearly as inspiring.

But ultimately, the success of this AdWords account came from consistent effort over time in each of these 3 areas.

Without the exploratory phase, we never would have known which channels worked…and which ones didn’t. Without the refinement phase, we would have ended up wasting money on the channels that weren’t working. And, without the optimization phase, we would have spent thousands of dollars driving the wrong sorts of leads.

Were any of the phases an incredible win in their own right? Maybe to a certain extent, but if we’d stopped after any of the phases, we would have sold the account short in a big way.


AdWords optimization isn’t a one-and-done affair. To really get the most out of your paid search budget, you need to be willing to put the time in month-after-month and year-after-year.

Ultimately, a successful AdWords account is the result of countless minor improvements—not a giant, game-changing fix.

By the way, if you’d like me to take a look at your AdWords account and help you outline your own roadmap to success, let me know here or in the comments. I’d love to help!

How have you seen consistent AdWords optimization yield results over time?

  • AdWords

Aden Andrus

Aden Andrus

Over his career, Aden has developed and marketed millions of dollars of successful products. He lays awake at nights figuring out new marketing tactics and is constantly upping Disruptive's internal marketing game. He loves to write, dance and destroy computer monitors in full medieval armor.

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