If you’re new to AdWords, it’s OK to admit that sometimes you don’t really know what information you’re looking for when building or reviewing your campaign. While pretty straightforward at it’s core, the increasing sophistication of AdWords features and functionality has lead to a less-than-intuitive interface, and even if you do know what you’re trying to find, doing so can be frustrating and time consuming.

The Basics

AdWords accounts are hierarchical. When you first enter the AdWords interface, you’ll see things on the account level. You can click into a campaign on either the left hand navigation bar, or in the main data table. Once done, you’ll only see data and campaign settings relating to that campaign. You can get more specific by clicking on an ad group, or go back to the account or campaign level by clicking ‘All Online Campaigns’ or the desired campaign in the left hand navigation bar.


The Settings

Settings live at the campaign level in AdWords. This means that all enabled keywords within a campaign will trigger ads within the location and times you set, as well as the devices you target. This is also where you’ll set your daily budget for the campaign. Access the campaign settings by clicking the highlighted tab below.


The Graph

For whatever reason, AdWords default settings seem to have changed recently such that the performance graph doesn’t automatically display upon opening a campaign. While slightly aggravating, clicking the graph button (highlighted below) brings up one of the most versatile and informative tools at your disposal.


The graph allows you to compare two performance metrics for a selected date range at the account, campaign, or ad group level. The two drop down menus (highlighted on the left side of the screenshot) provide a wide variety of parameters upon which you can analyze the effectiveness of your AdWords efforts. Some useful comparisons include Clicks vs Converted Clicks, Cost vs Converted Clicks, Average Position vs Click Through Rate (CTR), and Clicks vs Cost Per Click (CPC), but the number of options allows for some pretty advanced analysis. You select the date range for the graph (and for the data tables underneath in the box highlighted on the right side of the screenshot. You can also select whether you want the intervals of you graph to be Daily, Weekly, Monthly or Quarterly, depending on the length of your selected date range.


The Search Term Report

So you’ve built a keyword list full of terms relevant to your business, but you (very understandably) want to see how searchers are matching to those keywords. Fortunately, you can do just that by pulling up a search term report. First, decide if you want the report to reflect terms on the account, campaign, or ad group level. Next, click into the Keywords section (tab highlighted below), then select the Details drop down (also highlighted). I usually want to see the search terms for all of the keywords within the account, campaign, or ad group I’ve selected, but if you want to focus on a smaller subset of keywords, you can do so by checking the adjacent boxes and choosing the ‘Selected’ option on the drop down. Otherwise, click ‘All’ and you’ll be able to see the exact query used by searchers who have clicked on your ads.


You can use this list of search terms to identify irrelevant or low-quality traffic. By either adding negative keywords or modifying the match type of the matching keyword, you can decrease irrelevant impressions and clicks, improving your Quality Scores and decreasing unnecessary expenditure. You may also find some search terms so relevant to an ad group that you should add them as keywords. In both cases, regular review of this report will lead to an increase in the overall health and performance of you AdWords campaigns.

The Data Table

I’m sure everyone has encountered a spreadsheet before, and I don’t need to point out that you can sort values by clicking on column headers just as you would in Excel, Numbers, or Calc (though I suppose I just did). While super-basic, this very quickly shows you where the action in your campaign is, and as a general rule of thumb, where to direct the bulk of your optimization efforts. Perhaps slightly less intuitive is the necessity (in this AdWords consultant’s opinion) to add additional columns to the data table. Clicks, Impressions, Click Through Rate (CTR), Average Cost Per Click (CPC), Cost, and Average Position are the default columns you’ll see on any new campaign, but trying to optimize with just these is leaving a lot of available data on the table. I add almost all the columns available, but at the very least you want to see your Quality Score & Match Type (in the Attributes menu) on the Keyword level, and your Impression Share and Impression Share Lost (in the Competitive Metrics menu) on all levels. I’ve highlighted the path to adding additional columns in the screenshot below. Don’t forget to save and apply the columns!


The Conversions Tool

A downright essential element of optimizing your AdWords campaign is knowing whether or not the traffic you’re sending to your site is actually converting. This is where the AdWords Conversions Tool comes in. Click the ‘Tools’ drop down on the upper nav bar, and select ‘Conversions’.


Click the ‘+ Conversion’ button and you’ll be guided through the set-up process. If you follow the instructions carefully, your keywords and ads will be recording conversions in short order, and you’ll be that much better informed when making optimization decisions.

The Ad Extension Advantage

Ad extensions allow you to show additional relevant information to searchers when your ad is appearing in a high position. Access this feature by clicking on the ‘Ad Extensions’ tab highlighted below, and add as many extensions as are applicable to your business.


There’s plenty more to learn about AdWords, but I hope this helps you feel like you have a few more tools in the box. Happy advertising!