The single best optimisation I’ve made in Bing Ads

When I was first using Bing Ads we were getting a lot of clicks, but very little conversion. When I dug through the traffic sources using Google Analytics, we were getting clicks from a lot of weird listings sites which looked like niche search engines, or sites full of articles, but there was always something a bit off about them. Although we tracked the clicks as coming through Bing Ads adverts, some of these sites didn’t even seem to run adverts on them.

It looked like we were running our adverts on spam sites, which were sending dodgy clicks through in order to make money from Bing Ads, from our ads.

Adverts on spam sites is not what I was signing up for. Before ditching Bing Ads entirely, I went on a dive through its settings to see if I could fix this problem. I found one simple setting to tweak that sorted out all of my problems and I’ve been a happy Bing Ads user ever since.

Ad Distribution

Like Adwords, Bing Ads has settings at the Campaign and Ad Group level and on the surface the settings are very similar. This setting is only shown at the Ad Group level.

To find it yourself, within Bing Ads click on a Campaign, then on an Ad Group within it, then the ‘Settings’ tab. Scroll down and under ‘Other settings’ click ‘Ad distribution’. By default when I’ve set up campaigns, or when I’ve copied them in from Adwords using Bing’s import utility, this has been set as “All search networks (Bing, AOL, and Yahoo search and syndicated search partners)”. This setting provided large amounts of spam traffic.

Change the setting to “Bing, AOL, and Yahoo search (owned and operated) only” and I’ve found we receive very decent traffic. This locks your adverts to only show on the properties listed, which are all high quality sites. You get less clicks, but they’re much, much better quality. As far as I can tell, all of the clicks we were getting from the ‘syndicated search partners’ were spam.

Screenshot of Bing Ads settings

Change this setting for each of your Ad Groups and you too should see a great improvement in your click quality and conversion rate.


Bulk setting the Ad Distribution

If you use the Bing Ads web interface, you need to re-set the Ad Distribution in every Ad Group. This isn’t a problem if you’ve only got a few Ad Groups, but when I’ve imported large campaigns from Adwords, we often have a large number of Ad Groups to allow us to target adverts effectively. With a lot of Ad Groups, using the Bing Ads website to change each group is a painful amount of clicking. You can avoid all this by bulk changing the setting using the downloadable Bing Ads Editor (available for Windows and OSX.)

To do this, first download and install Bing Ads Editor. Use it to login to your account, it then downloads all of the account details.

Once Bing Ads Editor has all your account information, click on a campaign on the upper left pane, then ‘Ad Groups’ on the bottom left pane. This should give you a list of Ad Groups in the main view. Click on the top one, then hold down shift and click on the bottom one. This should select all of the Ad Groups at once.

Below the list of ‘groups is a set of drop down lists. Set the ‘Network distribution’ one to ‘Only Bing, AOL and Yahoo! websites’

Screenshot of Bing Ads Editor settings

Do the same for as many Campaigns as you have. This isn’t quite over, you need to get the Editor to make the changes in your account…

Click on the account name at the top of the list of Campaigns on the top left pane, then click the ‘Post’ button in the top navigation. The Editor will then list how many changes there are to change in your account, click ‘Post’ to make the changes.

This single change saved us thousands in useless clicks. I’m sure it’ll do the same for you.

Why bootstrapped startups should use Bing Ads over Adwords

When you’re running a bootstrapped startup, you need to get the best value for every penny you’re spending. If you’re looking to use Google Adwords to gain more customers, you’ll probably find Bing Ads to be a much more cost effective alternative.

What the heck is Bing Ads?

Just as Google Adwords shows the adverts on Google’s search results, and many other places. Bing Ads shows adverts on the search results, and also AOL and Yahoo search results, and many other smaller sites. For all intents and purposes, you can see Bing Ads as a ‘fast follow’ version of Adwords, showing ads on similar properties.

Bing? Does anyone really use that?

Bing has 23% market share on desktop and tablet, up from a low of 18%1. Now, you might think it will be better to be with Adwords, as Google’s search has by far the lion’s share of the market, with a practical 70% share on desktop, and over 90% on mobile. However, if you’re watching your costs, Adwords has problems.

Adwords is expensive

Adwords has two problems:

1. Everyone else is using it too – competition is very high

2. Adwords is set up to be costly

The first point should be of no surprise – Google search is massively popular, therefore the way you advertise in the search results is also very popular. As Adwords acts as an auction, the more competition there is, the more you have to pay to be seen in a useful position in the results.

How Adwords has become more costly

Two changes made by Google within Adwords in the last two years have increased costs for advertisers:

1. Removing the adverts from the sidebar, adding pressure to the slots at the top of the page.

As long as you were not trying to gain huge amounts of traffic, bidding to be on the side of the results was a cost effective way of using Adwords, until Google removed them in 2016. This has forced higher bids for the 3-4 slots at the top of the search results, as the slots at the bottom of the page get very poor results.

2. Assigning a minimum cost per click to a great number of searches.

To understand the impact of this, a quick overview of how Adwords works:

You as an advertiser set up a list of ‘keywords’, phrases that match what your business sells. If a potential customer types those words in to Google’s search, Adwords shows your advert in the search results.

How Adwords decides whether to show your advert and at which slot in the results depends on a variety of factors, but the most important is how much you’re willing to pay. The more you pay, the higher up you go.

It used to be that if there was no competition in the results, e.g. for a ‘long tail’ search, you could register a very cheap bid. If you wanted to be found for ‘time tracking software for marmoset vets’, you could bid at 5p a click and your adverts would show, as long as a lot of other time tracking developers were not also trying to target the lucrative marmoset niche.

Currently, Adwords has decided on a minimum cost for every search. So, you might get lucky and hit some searches where you can get your costs down to 15-20p per click. Or, even though you bid on the search and no other adverts are showing, your ads do not show. On some searches, Google would rather have no adverts show, rather than cheap ads. This appears especially true in the medical industry, but affects all sorts of searches.

As an advertiser, this can be very frustrating, and expensive. To bid on a keyword where there is no competition and not have your adverts show? What is the point of this? The point is money. Google have calculated what they believe a business will pay to be shown on that search, and if you’re not willing to go up to that cost, they will attempt to push you to increase bids just to get your adverts to show at all.

Using Bing to avoid these problems

Against these two points, Bing Ads has two advantages:

1. Still has a wide range of slots available where your ad is easily visible, even if you’re not in the most expensive slots.

2. No minimum bids on searches, so you can bid low on longer searches and still get visibility

But… Adwords is still bigger

I’m not saying never use Adwords. I’m saying if you’ve got limited money, Bing Ads is a very good alternative that most bootstrappers and self-funded startups have missed. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than Adwords? Well, it’s a bit clunky to use and has a few less features, but it’s much better value for money than Adwords.

If you’re new to using pay-per-click advertising and you have a tight budget, you can get good results from Bing Ads and learn a lot about how to use these platforms without spending a fortune. Then when you’ve got a higher budget to spend, you can use everything you’ve learnt to get the most out of Adwords when you start using it.

When not to use Bing Ads

If your target market is techies, don’t use Bing Ads. They’re all using Google. And indeed, a lot are using ad blockers as well so targeting them with PPC ads is generally harder. If your target market is people who are not developers, it’s well worth giving a try.

Getting started with Bing Ads

You can sign up for Bing Ads here.

If you’re already using Adwords, they have an import utility which will copy your information in from Adwords. It’s not always perfect, but it does save a lot of time in most cases.

Figures from a presentation by Vikas Arora in April 2017’s Brighton SEO conference. (return)