How to Switch from Automatic Bidding to Manual Bidding in AdWords


New England can be a fabulous home for adventure. A recent weekend included a kayaking excursion on the open ocean, bouncing from island to island off the coast of Portland, Maine. In such an environment, kayaks can be tricky things to control. Abrupt changes in wind, spontaneous large waves from the intersecting boating lanes, and the general instability of the craft can make for a challenging experience. Yet this tandem craft was equipped with an extra device for control: a rudder. This small feature enabled you to agilely control the entire vessel with the slightest adjustment on its petals. This made it possible to shift quickly for waves approaching the boat, gently banking into the shore, and ultimately getting where we wanted to go in the shortest time.

google adwords automatic to manual bidding

You’ve probably realized at this point that I’m just constructing an analogy, so let’s dive right into it. PPC has its own ocean to navigate and that would be bidding. Instead of a rudder, the small feature in your account that grants this similar control would be Manual Bidding. In the same way you like to be in physical control of a vessel in the open water, most professional advertisers prefer to be in manual control of the bidding in their account. It offers the same benefits of specific navigational precision as the analogy above, yet in this scenario the benefits come in relation to managing your CPA, Stacked/Tiered Bidding strategies, controlling cost for low converting keywords, and increasing Impression Share.

Many smaller advertisers start with Automatic Bidding in an effort to save time, and reduce the amount of management needed for the account. For some it works, for many others more control is needed to put the priority on core keywords and optimize the CPA to an acceptable level. When faced with an underperforming account, many advertisers look to gain that control by switching to Manual Bidding. When making this change, there are a few main things to consider in order to ensure the smoothest transition:

One Campaign At A Time

automatic bidding

This process can be tedious in the first initial weeks while you’re feeling out the appropriate bids for each keyword. To avoid overwhelming yourself, start with one campaign at a time. The first could be a mid-tier campaign, compared to the rest in your account, with respect to the volume of clicks and impressions. You don’t want to lead with your best performing or highest volume campaign in case anything doesn’t perform as desired. Catch these improvements to the process on these smaller campaigns, so you can make the change on your main campaigns with perfect precision. Working on one campaign at a time will ensure that you’re able to manage all of these adjustments, and recognize any trends or improvements you can apply to the transition of the next one.

Start with Average CPC

The Average CPC is likely the most critical metric in determining the appropriate bids to start your Manual Bidding. It shows you what, on average, you’ve been paying per click on that specific keyword. That is huge! This essentially provides you with a specific starting point for your bids.

However, you must account for how you’re entering the bidding auction and how your CPC is produced. Your actual Bid is the Maximum CPC you’re willing to spend on a click, thus your Average CPC will be lower than the bid itself. For this reason, instead of bidding the exact amount of the Average CPC, you’ll want to bid higher to ensure you’ll maintain a good ad rank and avoid dropping in position.

Typically, depending on how conservative you’d like to be, I bid the Maximum CPC 8% - 10% higher than the Average CPC to begin with. In the next few weeks you’ll want to watch these bids closely and determine if they need to be individually adjusted higher or lower. It is a bit of an educated guessing game, yet using the Average CPC as a baseline can get you very close to where your Maximum CPC should be.

First Page Bid Estimate

To borrow an analogy from a colleague, the First Page Bid Estimate is more of a barometer than an accurate estimate. This means that it is imperfect; your ad could be appearing on the first page while an alert that you’re below the First Page Bid Estimate is simultaneously appearing in your account. However, it can be used to determine if you need to increase the bid to gain impressions.

If you’re finding that you are getting little to no impressions on a keyword and simultaneously getting an alert that you’re below the First Page Bid Estimate, that’s a likely sign that you’re not receiving traffic due to such a low position below the first page.  If the estimate seems exaggerated, begin conservatively bidding up the Max CPC until you start receiving impressions. Do this gradually; increasing it each week or even every other day if time is tight. When your position reaches position 6 or higher (1-5), you can be confident that you’re on the first page.

Impression Share

Impression share is the rate of how often your ads are appearing vs. how often they’re eligible to appear. Your ads are eligible to appear based on the keywords you’re bidding on, the match types they have, your quality score, your budget, and of course your bidding.

The easiest way to increase impression share (if budget isn’t limited) is to increase bids. When transitioning to Manual Bidding, take a look at the current impression share of your individual keywords. If you notice that you have core keywords at a low impression share, you have room to grow on the impressions those keywords could receive. You might wish to bid more aggressively on those terms in comparison to other keywords in the account in order to get more visibility for your ads.

Focus On Conversions

This one is obvious for every advertiser, yet the execution of this concept is worth explaining. Be very mindful of what keywords and queries are driving the most conversions in your account. When you move to Manual Bidding you NEED to make sure those keywords have adequate bids. If they get stuck on a low default bid, for whatever reason, you might experience a big drop in clicks and conversions.  Be sure they get the attention they need to have the smoothest changeover possible.

This also relates directly to the point above about impression share. If these keywords have impressions to gain, bid them up a bit more aggressively than other keywords to potentially increase conversions. Likewise, if you discover keywords that are driving cost but not producing conversions, you can certainly bid those terms more conservatively to save the cost.

Don’t Change What Works

adwords automatic bidding

This article clearly is focusing on accomplishing the transition from Automatic to Manual Bidding, yet this is directed towards advertisers whose accounts are suffering from this setting. If you have an account where you have a satisfactory CPA, don’t feel compelled to arbitrarily switch to manual bidding. You have something that’s working, so count yourself fortunate and avoid rocking the boat (pun intended) with Google. You’re not guaranteed to see the same success when you make the switch, as with any significant change in AdWords, so in some cases the transition might not be the ideal path.


Before making this transition, consider your goals for the account. If you’re significantly underperforming, it might be time to take control. If you’re satisfied with your current performance, it might be best to stick with Automatic Bidding and use Bid Adjustments and Enhanced CPC for further optimization.

Are you currently using Automatic Bidding? How is it working for you? If you made the switch recently or are considering doing so, let us know your thoughts or concerns in the comments!



Nov 01, 2014

Great post. It clearly explains the transition. Yes, I agree with you. When your campaign is working fine, there is no need to experiment with it. Actually, adwords campaign is very tricky. if you are not careful, you would emply your wallet. Average CPC is always a good area to start with.

Shawn Giragosian
Nov 02, 2014

Generally when deciding a good CPC for a keyword, I look at the average CPC as well average ad position so I can target my ad to a specific ad rank. I have actually come to find 2nd to 3rd position produces the highest CTR. I agree the First page est. or top page est. is more of a guideline and can be a little inaccurate sometimes.

Elisa Clancy
Mar 09, 2016

Shawn Giragosian helped our AdWords campaign go from mediocre to great. Shawn if you get this message, call me please.

Mar 20, 2015

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May 26, 2016


Thanks for some very useful tips. We are just starting out with a new site and limited budget so we're very nervous of the CPC running off with the wallet! But manual bids are definitely the way forward, see you on page one!

Aaron Coffee
Jun 23, 2016

nice details about PPC" IM still a littlie confused about auto and bid? pls help mu account is new" it set to aotu by its self? is their a setting to make it manual bids???

Apr 08, 2017

Hi, I created Campaign two week ago, and selected maximize clicks in bidding method, but i did not get much impressions, specially i did not get any single click from two days, i have just checked status, it is also eligible, but not showing ad, it is showing:( Showing ads right now?
Your keyword isn't triggering ads to appear on Google right now due to a low Ad Rank. Ads are ranked based on your bid and Quality Score.)
kindly help me to get my ads shown , i'm really worrying. thanks

Allen Finn
Apr 10, 2017

Hi, Khanzee.

Sounds like you're in need of some Quality Score improvements. Ensuring the keywords you're targeting appear in your ad copy and on your landing pages is a great place to start.

For more help, check out a free trial of our software, WordStream Advisor:

Good things,


Jun 18, 2017

This article doesn't explain "how" to enable manual cpc. So far, I am obligated to stick with the auto bid. I have searched high and low for the enable manual cpc option. One article on AdWords itself, said it's under the display network tab... however, it is not there. Any help is greatly appreciated. I am getting frustrated.

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