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How to optimise your Google Ads account on a tight budget

As a strong digital presence is key to growing a business, we are seeing more businesses enter the digital landscape. Lots of these new smaller businesses are emerging with tighter budgets, competing in the same landscape with bigger brands- lots of who may not even be direct competitors. But can businesses with tight budgets compete with larger brands? The short answer is yes! With creative and diligent optimisations; smaller budgets can achieve strong results in a cluttered environment. 

See below for our top tips for optimising Google Ad campaigns with a tight budget.

1. Focusing your goals

Most of the time advertisers will have multiple business goals that need to be achieved. And they may believe that Google ads are a cheap way to achieve all of their goals quickly. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as tight budgets cannot always achieve multiple goals.

For example: a business may want to drive sales, increase brand affinity and awareness as well as bringing back existing customers. All of these goals can be achieved through the Google ads network, however, their tight budgets mean we can only achieve one of them well. The business will need to prioritise their goals to ensure the campaign is focused.

It is important to remember that all goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-focused, and Time-Bound or S.M.A.R.T. This will ensure advertisers have definable parameters in which they can optimise a campaign to achieve their goals. Having specific and measurable goals means you can make snap decisions when optimising campaigns that should help increase the desired actions for the ad spend. 

2. Define your audiences.

With small budgets, we do not necessarily want to reach every possible customer. Instead,we want to target the ‘high-intent’ customers who are more likely to perform the desired action. However, before we restrict our audiences we need to understand who they are. This means relying heavily on first-party data: ad data (Google Ads data) and website data (Google analytics data). 

The more data you have to inform decisions the less decision time you should actually need and the more likely your optimisations will be effective.

3. Restrict your audience

Once you have defined your audience you can start removing the people who don’t fit within the profile you have created. The top ways to do this are:

  • Demographic targeting: split targeting by age, gender, parental status, or household income. 
    • Remove or negatively bid adjust based on the data you have collected.
    • Geo-Targeting: restrict traffic by reducing the places where you ad will show. There are a number of ways to do this:
      • Most restrictive: You could only target places you know have done well in the past
      • Mid-level restriction: You could set a large target area, and negatively bid adjust against everywhere except for the location that has historically performed well. This is less restrictive than the first option, allowing ads to show to a wider audience but will spend less of the budget on the locations we are not sure will perform. This also allows us to grow out our “known performing locations”
      • Least restrictive: You could negatively target the places that are underperforming against your set goals. This would mean starting with a larger area and reducing it as your campaign runs. This means that at first, your campaign will be less focused. 
  • Device Breakdown: On google, you can not remove device targeting. However, you can negatively bid adjust to reduce the number of times your ad is shown on a particular device.
  • Ad Scheduling. We will only show ads when we know people are actively searching and engaging with our brand. If we are primarily a brick and mortar store this may mean only running ads during shop opening hours. If the business is active online we will have to rely on data to understand when people are pursuing the brand and reacting to the data. 

The key phrase here is: “showing ads to the right people at the right time in the right place.” This has become a cliche within the industry but when we have a limited budget it is critical, not only that but the pace at which we identify the right place, time, and person has to be nearly instant.

4. Be strategic with Ad choices

Getting to know how and why people click on advertisements is key to driving strong results for any budget. 

It is also important for tight budgets we are running more restricted ad formats. For display ads, we would run set size ads, rather than responsive ads as we know this limits available ad slots. Again use historic performance to decide what are the best performing ad sizes for your client. If you have multiple ads running, it would likely be worth reducing the offering to ensure you spend it going to your best performing ads.

In the same way, we do not run dynamic search ads with a limited budget. Dynamic search ads target content rather than keywords. This means that they are less tailored to our intent and goals and can result in irrelevant impressions and click wastage. 

5. Overlay the campaign with observational targeting

Make sure you are including observational audiences (or topics where available). This in itself does not restrict audience size, however, by overlaying our campaigns with observational audiences we can better understand how Google classifies the people interacting with our ads. We can also exclude or negatively bid adjust against the audiences (and topics if applicable) that are performing badly.

For example: Using observational audiences we have noticed that “Business Travellers” are taking up a lot of our spend, but are not converting. Off this learning, we can add ‘Business Traveller’ into audience exclusions, in the future when someone who google classifies as a “Business Traveller” uses our keywords our ads will not show. This reduces possible click wastage and creates more opportunities for high-intent clicks. 

6. Focus on strategic keywords

As we cannot compete financially with larger budgets when selecting keywords we need to be more strategic. We should be focusing on high volume, high intent,and low competitive keywords. These are often long-tail keywords that businesses with larger budgets may miss. 

A best practice when building campaigns with tight budgets is to use exact match keywords. In order to increase reach without losing relevance, we can take the best performing keywords and build phrases or broad match modified keyword lists. What this can do is help to expand the targeting when the campaigns become too restrictive, without reducing performance. 

Ensure we have conclusive negative keyword lists. These are vital for reducing waste and completing set goals- particularly when we expand our list to include broad and phrase match keywords. 

The best place to start building a negative keyword list is in search term reports. The search term reports, allows advertisers to see the google searches that are actually triggering our ads, based on the keywords we are actively pursuing. This could be something simple like ensuring customers go where we want them to onsite or removing completely irrelevant clicks where we show next to unexpectedly related search queries.

The above option helps build reactive keyword lists we can build out while optimising. However, it would be beneficial to have keywords lists before starting a campaign to help minimise waste. These can be updated as we get more learnings. To be proactive we can use tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and SEMrush to find what people are searching for that might trigger an ad with our keywords. We will then take all the irrelevant keywords from those lists to build the list. 

For example, when using a search query report for ‘legging’, ‘daddy long legs’ came up as a broad match. As this is irrelevant we can add this to the negative list before we waste a click on that keyword.

7. Focus on the best selling products

Removing some of the worst-performing product ads will give more visibility to the better performing products which should have a positive effect on campaign performance. This is key for all e-commerce campaigns, even if it means only focusing on one or two products.

This is also true for display and discovery ads. Often in display ads we try to get as much information as possible in the adverts, however, if we focus creative on one best selling product, we can help increase campaign performance. 

Discovery ads give us the opportunity to advertise over Discovery, YouTube, and Gmail. This gives advertisers the opportunity to create campaigns with multiple touchpoints without massive budgets. Discovery ads may be a good alternative to display ads, as we are seeing less fraudulent or wasted clicks but they have all the same targeting options, as well as offering strong visual experiences. 

8. Increase Ad relevance

A clear theme throughout this campaign has been a focused approach and selecting landing pages is no exception. Tighter budgets means reduced max bids in auctions. To combat this we need our ads to have as high a quality score as possible. The best way to do this is by making each ad as relevant as possible to the landing page and keywords. 

This means creating more ad groups with fewer keywords/ audiences in, and making each ad as relevant as possible to each audience selected. This can be a lot of work, particularly if you are running large keyword/ audience pools however, increasing the ad relevance and quality score lower bids may have less of an impact on SERP position than feared.

9. Run fast-paced A/B tests

As we just mentioned testing on a tight budget is often less thorough than we would normally like. However, testing is still very important in optimising and developing campaign strategy. As a result we have to run ‘fast-paced’ split tests. These are the same as our normal tests but take place over much shorter periods of time (around 4-6 days) and make fast-paced decisions based on these tests. By doing this we can limit the amount of wasted spend while continuing to develop our key learning for the business.

10. Be Data-Driven

Just in case this has not come across so far, every decision you make, when operating with tight budgets, has to be based on the data available.Often tight budgets mean you cannot test as thoroughly as you would like for each campaign. Instead you need to start from a point of knowledge and build out from there.

As data is so important you have even less time for vanity metrics. Click volumes and Impression share may look good on a report but if those clicks are not yielding conversions then they are useless. Instead, focus on cost per results and relevant rates of data. By lowering cost per action we should increase ROAS and by increasing rates, we will increase volumes.


Our main focus, when running campaigns with tight budgets is eliminating waste: whether this is impressions, clicks, or time. This means carrying out smaller optimisations more regularly to finesse the results we need.  Every action we take has to be deliberate with a smart goal attached to it. And most importantly it needs to be built upon a foundation of data. 
If you are struggling to make the most out of your small budget we are always happy to help! Please reach out at team@ecrubox.com to learn more.