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I’ve been somewhat wary of new AdWords features  in the past here on the blog, and have warned that sometimes what Google labels as a panacea answer to a longstanding pain point is either more of an opportunity for Google than for you  or not as complete of an answer as it seems  at first blush. It probably shouldn’t be any surprise that – like most people who make their living optimizing paid search accounts, among other things – I have a healthy amount of skepticism when Google offers to just make everything super easy!  So we thought we’d do a deep dive into the product formerly known as Boost: Google AdWords Express.
Google Express is the next step in a natural progression by Google to try to simplify AdWords for smaller advertisers:
- CPC bids allowed you to designate what you wanted to pay for a click – Google would figure out your actual cost, but you could tell them the most you wanted to pay for each click by keyword.
- CPA bidding via conversion optimizer  and bidding options such as enhanced CPC  were the next step in this evolution – rather than simply setting a bid at the keyword level, you were ceding a bit more control to Google to move bids around and go over or under your designated CPC if it looked like it made sense based on Google’s data.
- AdWords Express – Rather than saying you’ll pay X for a click or you’ll pay Y for a conversion, just tell Google what you have to spend every month and they’ll figure out the rest. Paid search without keywords  for small businesses is finally here!
- Your category
- Your ad headline
- Your ad description
- Where to send people (send them to your site, or better yet: send them to Google’s site!)
- A maximum monthly budget (don’t worry: Google will even give you a highlighted recommendation if you’re unsure. It’s in green, so you know it’s the good one.)
Here’s how this looks as you walk through the sign in:
The sign-up process  is actually somewhat un-Google-esque in that despite the fact that you need a places page to use Google Express, it’s actually a fairly smooth process to get started whether you have a places page or not. (The standard Google login issues persist otherwise, though – if you’re an agency or just use some combination of Webmaster Tools/AdWords/Google Analytics/Gmail for multiple sites with multiple people you know how maddening and confounding the account permissions can be.)
Once you’ve created your ad and designated how much you want to spend, that’s pretty much it. You can monitor activity on your places account in your places dashboard, and you can look at your standard AdWords billing  set up in the billing tab of your places account:
If you want to actually do a deep dive to figure out where your money’s going, that’s where things get a little clunky. You can click the link to edit or deactivate the ad shown above and scroll down to the bottom of your ad and deactivate, or you can jump over into AdWords to view billing and more specific activity in your account. This will open up your AdWords account, but it’s basically “read only” and you can see the keywords being bid on but can’t make any changes (sort of like a shady PPC agency that won’t let you see your actual account but sends you reports every month):
Here are the segmentations being created for our Arlington-based SEM agency. We have business name, business name Arlington, business name Wellington and Harrington (a local neighborhood), business name internet marketing, etc.
We’ve only created one ad but Google has assured us that they will “create other versions using content you provide in Google Places,” though of course it’s not really clear what that means.
Obviously I’m not as bullish on the execution as Google is, but believe it or not this may actually make sense for some small businesses, particularly local ones. Some things to note about the campaign above:
- This is pretty poorly constructed. If a PPC campaign manager created these keyword combinations and ad groups, applied the same generic ad that he or she asked you to write to all of them, and just ran an algorithm to manage bids (and refused to let you make any changes or additions, and did his or her best to keep you from getting too much actual insight into what was going on in the campaign) they would be labeled by most (and probably even Google) as shady at best.
- This work isn’t done by a competent PPC campaign manager, because by and large competent PPC campaign managers don’t work on $50-$750 per month PPC spends.
The economics of percent-of-spend pricing, pay-for-performance PPC pricing , and charging a fair flat rate for your expertise make it generally impossible for a PPC expert to work on micro-sized accounts. Even software and services companies like WordStream that offer affordably priced PPC management software  and pay-per-click management services aimed at small to medium-sized businesses  have service offerings that start at 50-100% of those budgets, because to get a competent PPC consultant  to work on your account you simply can’t charge any less.
So if you’re a small, local business that can’t afford more than a few hundred dollars a month you need to evaluate the following:
- Do you know enough about AdWords to “do it yourself”? If not, can you invest a sum of money to have someone perform a PPC audit ? If that’s something you can afford, it might be worth it to invest a month or two (or even more) of spend in getting a professional to take a deep dive into your account, set it up using best practices, and hand you some specific instructions for self-maintenance over time. Alternatively if you can invest time in learning AdWords and managing the account yourself (and then evaluate your performance with the free AdWords Grader  tool), that may also be an option, but be careful not to over-invest with your own sweat-equity when you could be better leveraging your time in other areas of your business.
- Can you afford to run Google Express as a test? If yes and you’re spending only a couple hundred a month, this might be worth it. If you set the campaign up and it does better than you were doing yourself or if you set it up and with no intervention on your part it performs profitably for you and does better than other marketing channels, you very well may be better off letting Google manage your small spend and focusing on other responsibilities.
Ultimately, whether to use Google Express or not is a business decision: does the time savings from Google Express, the results it generates, and the savings on paying someone to manage your account add up to a net win for your business? On monthly spends anywhere in the thousands I think this will rarely (if ever) be the case as the product is currently constituted, but if you spend a couple hundred bucks a month it may actually be a viable option.