Budget management is one of the most important facets of search account management, and one that is often the trickiest to get right. In this series of blogs, we explore the features and tools available to us within Search Ads 360 that enable us to not only effectively manage our budgets at scale, but also utilise advanced automation to enhance our approach to budgeting as a practice in itself.
This first instalment looks into the recently launched ‘Budget Management’ feature within Search Ads 360 – specifically: how to set it up, how to get the most out of the feature, and some common pitfalls. Later in this series we will also explore how to combine automation with budget management using Budget Bid Strategies, in addition to some more novel approaches to the management of budgets concerning both Business Data and Web Query Reports.
What About Budget Pacing?
Budget management as a bespoke feature isn’t exactly new to SA360. Regular users will be familiar with the longstanding ‘Budget Pacing’ tool, allowing you to allocate a desired target budget over a specific timeframe and associate with a specific set of campaigns – against which SA360 benchmarks your campaigns from a spend perspective, providing you with an indication of your spend pacing ratio and whether or not you need to take action in order to meet your desired spend target.
This tool is simple yet effective and is particularly useful for a very top-level picture as to how your campaigns are pacing. But therein lies a problem – with accounts growing in size and different pots of budget being allocated towards different sub-sets of campaigns and markets, this simplified approach limits our capacity to really engage with our budgets on a larger scale and tailor our approach according to client needs that are continually growing in complexity.
Therefore, the need for a more capable and enhanced solution within the platform has been recognised by the SA360 team, thus paving the way for the new and shiny feature called Budget Management.
Oh, and just to add to this, old school Budget Pacing as a feature is being completely deprecated in Q4 ’18. So get used to this fancy, polished replacement. In any case, newer equals better, right?
Right! Enter Stage: Budget Management
In this revised format, Budget Management brings to the table an extensive range of enhancements and capabilities over its predecessor. Inherent to the tool exists the ability to create and assign budgeting groups according to your preferred campaign structure, similar to the way in which certain campaigns can be opted in to your pacing reports via budget pacing – but these new budget groups behave in a format not too dissimilar to that of labels; they remain associated with your campaigns until removed, so only one round of setup is required for your activity to be future-proofed for future iterations of your budgeting plans.
Setup: Creating and Assigning Budget Groups
Accessible via the left-hand-side feature list, positioned between Bid Strategies and Budget Pacing, you can find the new Budget Management tab. Opening this up will take you to the main budget group dashboard, where you can create and assign your campaigns to budget groups. Click the ‘+ Budget group’ button to get going:
You will then have the option to name your first budget group and then use the filter to find the campaigns you wish to add. Once you click save, the budget group will be created and your campaigns will be instantly associated with this newly created group. This budget group can now also be used for filtering within your regular reporting interface – for example: ‘Budget Group – contains “brand”’ – handy for quick top level insights into the performance of your new sub-sets.
Once a budget group has been created, you can also manually add campaigns to it outside of the Budget Management tab in your regular reporting interface. Simply select the desired campaigns at campaign level and use the edit function to change their budget group association:
Budget Group Considerations
- Ensure you assign all of your campaigns to budget groups – Have you just launched a new seasonal shopping campaign? Or maybe you have just duplicated a search campaign for a test? Unfortunately these won’t automatically be included in any of your budget groups, and neither can you set up any automated rules to do this for you (as of 7th Dec 2018). It is therefore imperative that you manually add your campaigns to budget groups upon upload as per the instructions above and also utilise Bulksheets to assign your campaigns to budget groups in bulk.
If you think that there may be unassigned campaigns, then you can click the “View all campaigns not in budget groups” link at the bottom of the main Budget Management Overview interface. Alternatively, navigate to your main campaign level view and filter for “Budget Group – Does not have a value”.
- Structuring your Budget Groups – Budget groups can only be assigned at campaign level, so think carefully about how you wish to group your activity. There is also a ‘one-to-many’ relationship between campaigns and budget groups, whereby a budget group can contain multiple campaigns, but any individual campaign can only be associated with one budget group at any one time.
Typical examples of budget grouping may revolve around region or market, campaign type, or product category. Ultimately, the client’s pre-defined budgets should be the overriding influence over how you approach budget grouping.
Another consideration to bear in mind when grouping your campaigns into budget groups is future-proofing for automation. If you are keen to test the Budget Bid Strategy feature, bear in mind that this operates at a budget group level, so all campaigns associated with any individual group act as a single portfolio.
Setup: Creating Budget Plans
The next and more involved steps concern creating specific Budget Plans for your newly created and existing Budget Groups. A budget plan is essentially a pre-defined period of time with a set spend target, against which your budget groups and their associated campaigns are benchmarked.
It is important to highlight at this stage that inherently, Budget Management as a feature is purely for reporting and benchmarking, and will in no way manage your campaign bids, budgets or bid adjustments for you. In the next edition of this blog, we will explore Budget Bid Strategies which add an element of automation to proceedings, but for now we will focus solely on the reporting aspects of the this feature-set.
Once you have created a budget group, you can then click inside it to be taken to an overview of that specific budget group’s current performance:
You can then click on the ‘Budget Plans’ tab from within the budget group overview, and click ‘+Budget Plan’ to begin setting up your first budget plan:
On the first page of this setup, you are able to specify your budgeting period and a goal against which you want to measure performance. Once happy with your selections here, you can move onto the second stage where you are prompted to define your spend target.
Based on your specified conversion goal, SA360 will provide you with estimates for conversion volumes and cost per values – depending on whether you either opt to control bids and budgets manually, leave things as they are, or opt into a budget bid strategy:
This can be explored in more detail by clicking on the ‘compare estimate options’ button. You can then optionally tweak your budget plan spend target based on these estimates if you wish. Beyond this, you are then able to specify an additional performance benchmark for reporting, similar to when you chose the initial primary goal. Again, this will just be used for reporting purposes. For now we will ignore the ‘budget bid strategy’ tick-box as we are setting up our plan purely for reporting purposes.
The final stage to budget plan creation is the optional custom allocation of spend within your budget plan. For instance, if you had a flash sale occurring in the 2nd week of the month, you may wish to up-weight activity during this time. Custom allocations allow you to factor this into your budget plans and spend allocation targets.
A table is provided, where you are able to manually override the automatic/default allocation of spend according to your business needs. This table can be viewed at either weekly or daily level depending on how granular you require your custom allocation to go, so both flash sales that last only 1 day, as well as longer periods of increased/decreased activity can be accommodated.
In the example below for instance, we have decided that in the 2nd full week of January, we wish to spend £50,000 – considerably more than the norm for this budget group, and we can see how this allocation impacts the budget pacing table. Adding this custom allocation in will automatically reallocate the remaining available spend across the rest of the month. If left at the default settings, SA360 will consider historical trends and weekly patterns to allocate spend in a realistic way – and not just allocate in a flat manner across the month:
Once happy with your custom allocations (if any), you can then progress to the next page where any additional reporting benchmarks can be added, before finally saving and scheduling your budget plan.
Reporting on Budget Plans
Once your budget plan(s) is up and running, you can then view the performance of your plan in either an overview format (which will provide scorecards for the goals that you specified during setup), or in table format where you can add in additional columns akin to your regular main reporting interface. Particularly useful columns to add in are:
- Budget Remaining (%)
- Budget Spent (%)
- Time Remaining (%)
- Time Elapsed (%)
From these it is very easy to determine whether or not your campaigns are over/under pacing to target and whether any action is required. You are also able to save a view with these and other columns included to facilitate a quick workflow and navigation for checking in on the performance of your active budget plans.
Whilst Budget Management significantly improves upon the existing capabilities of the platform’s budgeting tools, there are a few final considerations that need to be addressed in order to ensure that the tool is being used effectively and without error:
- Plan ahead – Budget Plans can only be scheduled to begin at a future date. Therefore plan ahead, even if you don’t necessarily know what your actual target budget is yet. You can always edit the plan to adjust your spend target once you have a more concrete idea of budgets, even if this time falls after the start date of your budget plan has elapsed.
- Manual changes – Again to highlight, in it’s purest form budget management and the plans you create are purely reporting tools (unless opted into budget bid strategies). You are fully expected to be manually adjusting bids, bid adjustments and budgets to ensure that you stay on track with your spend goals.
- Scope – It is important to remember that your active interface scope bears a direct influence over the metrics that you can see in the Budget Management interface. In addition to the typical ‘today’, ‘last 7 days’ etc. timeframes that we are used to, Budget Management also introduces an ‘All plans in progress’ selection. This will expand/narrow your active scope to include all active budget plans – including future dates:
- Reported metrics and discrepancies – Linked to the above point, it is entirely possible that the data you observe within the Budget Management tab and it’s corresponding sub-interfaces surfaces different values to those metrics that you see within your regular reporting interface. This is because Budget Management only begins reporting on activity from the moment it is a) assigned to a Budget Group, and b) added into a Budget Plan.
For this reason, you may encounter three different values for any one metric – particularly during the early stages of either budget group or budget plan application. As such, it is always recommended to use your regular reporting interface as your ultimate source of truth, particularly for conversion based metrics.
In part two of this series, we will be going one step further to explore how we can combine our budget plans with automation via Budget Bid Strategies. Stay tuned…