We’re in the midst of a series of posts designed to explore different pieces of the AdWords interface in-depth. The idea with these series is to make what’s become a pretty daunting and complex interface more accessible for the average AdWords advertiser. Thus far we’ve covered:
- Google AdWords Ad Extensions 
- Google AdWords Reporting via the Dimensions Tab 
- Google AdWords Campaign Settings 
- Creating & Analyzing Google AdWords Ads 
And while we certainly hope and think that these guides have been useful (and will be continuing the series of series by focusing on the audiences tab next) it’s also valuable to pull back and help focus those same advertisers we’re trying to help with these guides by emphasizing that while having a thorough understanding of the AdWords interface is great, getting the fundamentals of your PPC campaign right first is critical.
Being able to leverage ad extensions and pull reports within a fundamentally flawed Google AdWords campaign  is useless. So in this post I wanted to pull back a step and focus on the five areas of your AdWords campaign you should have nailed down before you start to find additional points of leverage (like day-parting  or advanced geo-targeting ).
The Five Areas to Focus Your Attention First if You’re a Small to Mid-Sized Business
Here are five areas that SMB marketers need to get in good working order before they move on to fine-tuning their AdWords PPC campaigns.
- Understand the economic fundamentals of your campaign
Before you can do anything else within a pay-per-click campaign, you need to define some very fundamental things such as:
- What’s your conversion point?
- How do you value that conversion? What is it worth to your business, and what can you afford to pay for it?
- Is your conversion tracking  set up properly?
You’d be amazed at the number of advertisers who spend significant amounts on PPC and don’t track conversions at all ; this will be the fundamental means by which you manage your campaign and make decisions.
- Start Small, Iterate, and Expand
Being able to effectively track and manage progress within your campaigns is critical, and there is a very real management cost to building out an overly large campaign out of the gate. Pick a subset of the products you sell, the locations you can target, or the terms you can use within your campaign and start there. Iterate within that smaller subset, then start to apply your early findings to the creation of new parts of your campaign.
- Understand Campaign Settings
As we mentioned in our campaign settings guide , there are a lot of different nuances to setting up your campaigns – you don’t need to start splitting up all your groups into separate laptop/desktop and mobile campaigns but you do want to understand the levers available to you as you create campaigns from the start, or you might be setting up a messy campaign structure that will be hard to go back and alter later on.
- Pay Attention to Campaign Basics
Again the basic gist here is to start simple and focused, and become more refined over time. There are really five key areas where you want to be spending your time and optimization efforts early on:
- Search Query Mining - Pay close attention to placements and search queries and be aggressive with negatives .
- Account Structure - Keep your keywords tightly grouped within ad groups and understand the difference between search ad groups (really tightly relevant terms) and display ad groups (broader themes).
- Ad Creative - Write strong ads and test different types of variations.
- Landing Page Design - Create a strong landing page.
- Bid Management - Monitor your bids to be sure you’re spending your money in the right places.
- Think About the Way Your Campaigns May Grow
With everything from campaign settings, as we mentioned above, to the structure of your ad groups to the way you’re creating display ads you want to try to think as much early on about how you might best scale your campaign later. If you’re starting small and focusing on a specific region, you might be best suited to start to think about a geographically driven account structure from the get-go. When you’re increasing budget and trying to target a wider variety of terms how will your account’s structure and your process need to change to help achieve scale?
By focusing on fundamentals and thinking proactively about how your campaign might best scale, you’ll be able to achieve success out of the gate with your campaign, and then when you make use of some of the more nuanced tools and settings and features within AdWords, you’ll be layering additional efficiency on top of an already profitable campaign, rather than trying to make small tweaks to a hopelessly flawed account.