Maximize Google Search Conversions: Optimize Settings

Digital Marketing

Google Search Engine Marketing is excellent at driving conversions due to the high-intent nature of this tactic, where users are actually seeking out the ads based on the keywords they use in their search. This means ads in Google Search are hyper-targeted and hyper-relevant, leading to excellent performance results.

However, while the high-intent nature of Google Search increases the likelihood of strong conversion results, there are a slew of conversion-oriented settings that, if incorrectly applied, can significantly stunt conversion-level results in the platform and negatively impact overall performance. 

I’m going to review two important areas, Conversion Action Optimization and Custom Goal Settings, and detail how you can adjust them to improve overall campaign performance.

Conversion Action Optimization

On the Conversions page within Tools and Settings, users have the option of selecting whether or not a conversion should be considered Primary or Secondary. 

  • Primary conversions are used for campaign optimization, meaning Google will actually try to find as many users as possible who are likely to submit Primary conversions. 
  • Secondary conversions are used for reporting purposes only, meaning that campaigns will still count these conversions if they are generated, but campaigns will not actively optimize toward generating more of these conversions.

Although it would be ideal to optimize toward driving as many of each conversion as possible, in most cases some conversions have higher values or importance than others. For example, a conversion when a user gets directions to a local business is likely far less valuable than a conversion that tracks when a user makes an actual purchase from the business.

Due to the natural prioritization of conversions based on their value to the business, only the highest-priority conversion events should be labeled as Primary, with any Secondary or Tertiary conversions being labeled as Secondary within the Google Search interface.

Campaign reporting will still be able to show if any Secondary conversions were generated by campaigns, but the campaign itself will optimize exclusively toward the Primary conversions. This means that Secondary conversions can be useful to track various engagements on the path to conversion (app installs, get directions, phone calls, etc.) to help identify the value of those engagements. For example, if 10% of users who perform a phone call end up converting, but 50% of users who get directions to the business end up converting, you know that the Secondary conversion of ‘Get directions’ is far more valuable.

In summary, conversion action optimization should be used to differentiate between the events that matter the most to your business (Primary conversions) versus events that can provide valuable audience insights (Secondary conversions) but should not be optimized. Proper settings for conversion action optimization will help prevent Google from becoming confused about the true goal of a campaign and will help lead to more efficient conversion performance.

Custom Goal Settings (or lack thereof)

Another option that is available in the Conversions page within Tools and Settings is the ability to set Custom Goals based on conversion actions that are considered important for a particular campaign or set of campaigns. This means that you can set up a Custom Goal and tell a particular campaign to only report on and optimize toward certain conversion actions. For example, if you had a campaign promoting shoes, and another campaign promoting sunglasses, you might think it makes the most sense to have the shoe campaign focus explicitly on driving shoe conversions, and the sunglasses campaign focusing explicitly on driving sunglasses conversions.

But that’s leaving out the very real possibility that a shoe conversion could come from the sunglasses campaign, or vice versa. There are, in fact, a lot of learnings to be gleaned from studying how conversions relate to specific campaigns, or not. Applying a shoes-only-for-shoes or sunglasses-only-for-sunglasses restriction can greatly hamper the overall effectiveness and meaning of results from both campaigns. 

To draw from a real-life example, one VJ client tested Custom Goal settings in December 2022 in order to focus campaigns on their respective conversion events, but these Custom Goal settings were removed in January 2023, allowing campaigns to report out on all conversions they generated as opposed to just the conversion event they are optimized toward driving. 

Removing Custom Goal settings allowed campaigns to generate 57% more of their respective, Primary conversions, but more impressively campaigns also led to a significant 2,676% increase in the amount of “extra” Primary conversions they drove that belonged to other campaigns. To use the shoe and sunglasses analogy, removing Custom Goal settings allowed shoe campaigns to report out on an exorbitant amount of sunglasses conversions, and vice versa. 

This means that in just one month’s time, allowing Google Search campaigns to report out on all conversions they generated led to a 220% increase in total conversions at a 73% lower cost/conversion, resulting in a 379% improvement to overall return on ad spend (ROAS). 

In summary, applying Custom Goal settings to campaigns can restrict the conversion events they are able to report on, which removes visibility into any “extra” conversions that could be driven by the campaign.

  • Campaign Type One: Generated 346% more total conversions at a 63% lower cost/conversion
  • Includes 68% increase in Primary conversions and 2,124% increase in “extra” conversions
  • Campaign Type Two: Generated 123% more total conversions at a 64% lower cost/conversion
  • Includes 115% increase in Primary conversions and increase from 0 to 6 in “extra” conversions
  • Campaign Type Three: Generated 9% less total conversions at a 43% lower cost/conversion
  • Includes 9% decrease in Primary conversions and no change in “extra” conversions
  • Campaign Type Four: Generated 133% more total conversions at a 63% lower cost/conversion
  • Includes 12% increase in Primary conversions and increase from 0 to 110 in “extra” conversions
  • Overall, campaigns led to 178 more Primary conversions and 562 more “extra” conversions as a result of removing Custom Goal settings. With Custom Goal settings enabled, campaigns were not able to track any “extra” conversions that they drove. 

So, what have we learned about Conversion Action Optimization and Custom Goal Settings? For one, ensuring that conversion events are correctly labeled as Primary or Secondary will help Google correctly optimize toward the high-priority events. And for two, by refraining from applying any Custom Goals to campaigns, you can allow those campaigns to report out on all conversions produced, whether the true intent of the campaign or not, e.g., a sunglasses campaign driving shoes sales conversions.

For more information on how to maximize the effectiveness of your Google Ads campaigns, check out our Top 5 Google Ads Features You Should Be Using article.