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Can You Trust Google’s AI to Optimize Your Search Ads?

Google has rolled out new AI-powered suggestions to help advertisers optimize their Google Ads search campaigns. Using machine learning, Google now analyzes your account data and makes recommendations on things like new keyword ideas, bid strategies, ad creative, and more. 

The promise is enticing: let Google’s advanced AI do the heavy lifting of campaign optimizations so you can spend less time tinkering and testing. After all, Google has access to a wealth of data that the average advertiser couldn’t possibly process, so their AI should be able to find optimization opportunities that humans would miss, right?

Not so fast. While Google’s AI suggestions may seem impressive on the surface, there are some important caveats to consider before blindly implementing them.

Why Google’s AI might not work for your SEM campaigns

  1. Google’s motivations. At the end of the day, Google is a for-profit company whose main goal is to make money from ads. This means that their AI suggestions may be optimized more for Google’s interests than your own. For example, it may recommend higher bids or broader targeting to increase your spend, without necessarily improving your results. We’ve seen Google’s recommendations dramatically reduce click-through rates and drive up overall campaign spend while lowering conversion rates and overall conversion count.
  2. AI lacks holistic business context. Google’s AI can only base its suggestions on the data. It doesn’t understand the nuances of your specific business, profit margins, sales cycles, or strategic priorities. Recommendations that look good from a pure data perspective may be misaligned with your goals. For example, we once saw Google AI recommend “flyer distribution services” for a company whose core business is online press release distribution (to be clear, the company didn’t offer flyer distribution services).  Blindly following this suggestion would have led to highly unqualified leads that would waste both the marketing budget and the sales team’s time. 
  3.  Automation bias. There can be a tendency to over-rely on automated suggestions, without applying critical thinking. Just because the AI says to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right move. You still need to audit the suggestions through your own strategic lens. All you need to do is take one look at some of the weird and wacky AI images floating through the internet to realize you need to take their suggestions with a vast truckload of salt.

So, in the end, should you utilize Google’s AI recommendations? The suggestions can certainly surface new ideas and areas to explore. But they should be vetted thoroughly rather than implemented blindly. Think of the AI as more of a research assistant than an autonomous decision-maker.

Google suggestions and the broad match trap

One of the insidious things we’ve noticed is Google’s tendency to recommend the use of Broad Match Keywords that require you to rely on their AI to optimize your campaigns.  This is usually the first thing Google reps will suggest once they get you on the phone, and to be fair, it has its uses. But, it also has its dangers!

The allure of broad match keywords is understandable. They can increase reach and uncover new search queries beyond your original keyword list. However, campaign transparency and control quickly dissolve. Broad match keywords have steadily expanded to trigger ads for increasingly tangential searches, including irrelevant queries and inappropriate contexts.

Unless vigilantly monitored, broad match can drain your budget across a wider and wider funnel of garbage traffic. We’ve seen cases where broad match keywords triggered ads for competitor’s branded terms, completely unrelated products, and even disturbing or offensive searches. And overbroad matches often have an atrociously low return on ad spend that goes undetected for too long. 

Google automated auction pitfalls

Meanwhile, leaving the bid optimization to Google’s AI auction system is risky business. While their smart bidding algorithms consider a vast array of signals, advertisers have no insight into that black box process. What parameters is Google truly optimizing for? Are they favoring high-revenue advertisers or prioritizing auctions that make themselves more money through higher CPCs? We have no way of knowing.

Just as concerning, Google could be training their AI bidders to expand broad match even further and indiscriminately target any queries even remotely connected to your keywords. This leads to overspending and attribution nightmares in tracking true ROI.

Yes, we still need the human element in PPC advertising

In other words, the quest for PPC automation and efficiency has its limits. Automation should be an aid to make PPC marketers more efficient, not a crutch enabling blind reliance. AI and broad matches have their place but must be meticulously monitored and constrained. Relinquishing steering control to black box systems and indiscriminate keyword matching is a recipe for PPC disaster. The human element of strategy, insight, and measurement must remain paramount. Just as in all things, there is no magic PPC marketing card to take you to the finish with no effort.

Ultimately, the human in charge needs to apply strategic judgment, business context, and prioritization to your Google Ads optimizations. The AI can spark insights, but you need to remain firmly in the driver’s seat.

And of course, we’re always here to help. Whether you need a simple audit of your existing campaigns and some thoughts on things that could help optimize your performance or you’re looking for a partner to take on the full-time management of your Google Ads, well, we do that!  (And speaking of audits, we’ll do an initial audit absolutely free as part of getting to know you. So you have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain by reaching out!)

And just to finish this off, we’d like to remind you that while AI is up and coming and can be a useful tool, SkyNet was also an AI.

Ask John Connor how that worked out.

Happy marketing!

Theron & Katie

Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium-sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.