How and When to Not Use Google Ads' Automated Bidding

By Geoff Atkins,

This isn’t a conspiracy piece. I’m not going to say, “Oh, how can you trust a big corporation like Google to spend your money for you, especially when they’re receiving the money you spend?”

Google’s automated bidding functions are actually quite good, especially if you aren’t a seasoned pro with handling a PPC account. However, they do have their limitations. There are times when it’s just not advisable to leave your bidding in the hands of the machines. Here, I’ll touch on some of the times you really don’t want to hand control over, no matter how much Google suggests you do.

When You’re Not Reporting Conversions Accurately

Google really needs to know when a visitor to your website via your Ads has done something you want them to. If you’re using Target Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) bidding, then this is where Google figures out the “A”, the acquisition. Unless you’re telling Google, “Yup, this visitor is now a bona fide lead/customer,” and telling them at the right time then their algorithm is never going to get it right.

Now, that may sound straightforward, but what if you don’t know when your website has achieved a lead? What if you’re playing the longer game and just working towards building awareness of your brand? In that case, Target CPA may not be for you. Although you could create some soft goals in Google Analytics (i.e. trigger when a user has looked through several pages of your website over a certain amount of time). There are Maximise Clicks or Target Search Page Location, although these goals aren’t difficult to hit with manual bidding on a small account without devoting all your time to watching your bids like a hawk.

When You’ve Got No Data

The automated bidding algorithms used by Google require some data to start with. You can just let them loose on their artificial simulation of guesswork alone, but this is likely to wind up costing you more money than you might be comfortable spending. It’s best to run your campaigns for a while using old fashioned manual bidding so Google has a picture of how things operate and so you can define some realistic goals for it, and then let it loose.

When You Need to Make Big Changes Quickly

If you’re running the sort of business where things change rapidly, and your advertising has to change just as swiftly, then you’re better off not relying on Google’s automated bidding functions. While they are happy to chug along, making countless calculations many times a day, our experience is that they don’t like massive, sudden change.

If you suddenly have a rush to get a whole load of clicks very suddenly, then you’re better off manually whacking up the budget and the bids to maximise your audience. It’s very difficult to improve your ad position (except for the nebulous “top of page” goal, Google offers) and nigh impossible to improve your impression share using automated bidding. So, if your objective involves either of these, stick with the manual bids.

If Your Product/Service is Very Niche

Google likes to use data from one client to “assist” others. It’s not a breach of privacy, essentially everything Google’s algorithms learn is shared in a big pot and stirred up, so everyone benefits from the information. While that’s fine if you’re a mainstream business targeting a mainstream audience, it’s not helpful if your target audience is a small corner of a very specific niche.

The more exacting your requirements in targeting your audience, the less helpful Google will be. Anyone who has used Google Ads for a while will know that it will recommend adding keywords to your account and propose suggestions for you. If you are only targeting drivers of classic Minis you can expect Google to recommend adding keywords for Jaguar, Fiat, and VW Beetles to your account. When it comes to controlling bids for such a distinct market, Google’s algorithms have similar flaws.

More specifically, by relinquishing direct control of the bids you are placing, you lose some of the control you had to directly target the traffic you really, really, really, want. Your ideal customers, the ones you would bid a lot more for just to have the chance of a big sale, slip by with Google’s robotic eyes oblivious to the missed opportunity. This can be compensated for with restructuring your campaign, but you will have had to have known about that before putting an algorithm in command of your ad spend.

When You Want to Be in Control

Some people just aren’t comfortable leaving computer software in charge of making decisions about spending their money. It’s a peculiar trait that people who are happy with all manner of technology get very nervous about it making important decisions – look at the resistance to self-driving cars.

This very human trait of stubbornness is exacerbated by Google’s drive to get more people to use automated bidding. For Google it really does make sense to get as many people to use their software as possible. Every new account moved to automated bidding is a whole host of new data points for their algorithm to learn from. However, that does mean that even today when it’s quite well established, you’re still effectively a guinea pig for Google’s machine learning obsession. And no matter how often Google tells you, “Manual bidding may lower your performance,” the urge to resist just becomes stronger.

Then there’s the issue with Garbage-In-Garbage-Out. Mistakes, when configuring the automated bidding rules, can result in costly bids. Stories float around the internet of automated bids being put in at six times the going rate. While such cases may result in you getting a refund from Google for their wayward algorithm’s mistake, it is something that you should be aiming to avoid in the first place.

When You Should Use Automated Bidding

Not wanting to be unfair, I will touch on the times when automated bidding is a good idea:

You’re not confident manually managing your bids.

Not everyone has the knowledge or experience to know when and how to adjust the bids on a campaign. Leaving that in the hands of Google’s algorithm will mean that you can at least rest easy knowing that it’s not going to fail horribly.

You don’t have time to manually manage your bids.

People are busy, especially people who run businesses. If you can’t spare time yourself to manage your PPC account, and you don’t want to hire someone to do it for you, then leaving it in Google’s hands is better than leaving it uncontrolled. It’s the difference between auto-pilot and cruise control.

You have very clear, simple goals.

If you have some clear objectives, which are recognisable and understandable to Google (i.e. you want X number of people per month visiting a specific page of your website), then you can rely on Google to run your account. However, you could, with a little effort, do it yourself more effectively and efficiently.


Google’s Automated Bidding function can appear, at times, to be a very big, blunt tool for a very complex and delicate procedure. We’ll let you come up with your own metaphors for that. It can be clunky, unwieldy and if you’re not careful can quickly rack up the bills on your account. Given that it appears to need supervision, what is the point of it being automated at all?

PPC campaigns, by their nature, are complex and detailed and so require precise management to succeed. Unfortunately, Google’s Automated Bid function just isn’t the droid you’re looking for.