Ad Scheduling and PPC: What You Need to Know

by John A. Lee, Search Marketing Manager

Successful PPC management is all about proper targeting. The potential audience for a PPC ad is huge, but you want want to zero in on the right people who are ready to take action at the the moment they see your ad. One method for targeting users when they are most likely to take action is called Ad Scheduling.

The tactic is known as Ad Scheduling or Day Parting and it is available in Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter. As with all PPC tactics, Ad Scheduling should be approached with caution and a full understanding of how it works. If you know that customers convert higher (or don’t convert) at certain times of the day, you can either pause your campaigns or lower keyword bids during that time. This can save you money by not wasting budget when customers aren’t buying. At the other end of the spectrum, you can automatically increase bids when users are most likely to click and convert.

The single biggest mistake advertisers make is relying on their intuition to set up Ad Scheduling for PPC. Using real data is the only way to accurately schedule your ads around customer behavior. Google AdWords reporting doesn’t provide time-of-day conversion reporting. Though I should mention that Microsoft adCenter DOES! Advertisers also fail to recognize the many other potential downsides to Ad Scheduling. Advertisers often confuse or disregard time zones. Worse yet, many advertisers set Ad Scheduling and never revisit the data to make adjustments. Beyond generalities, each of the big three search engines handles Ad Scheduling in a different way and must be discussed and managed independently.

Google AdWords

In AdWords, to edit Ad Scheduling, go to your campaign settings and find the section labeled “Advanced Settings” and click the “Edit” link:

Google AdWords Ad Scheduling

Once you click “Edit” you will be presented with a dialogue box showing the seven days of the week – each broken down into six, four hour segments. This dialogue box will allow you to simply pause your campaigns or to modify bids based on the time.

AdWords Ad Scheduling Dialogue Box

AdWords Ad Scheduling Bid and Time Changes

Here are the 6 things you need to know about Ad Scheduling in AdWords:

  1. Very Important! All actions performed as a result of your Ad Scheduling settings will be based on your account’s time zone settings. If your account is set for the Eastern time zone and you target customers in California under the Pacific time zone that means there will be a 3 hour disparity in targeting. For example: if you choose to pause your campaigns from 8 pm to 8 am Eastern, that translates to 5 pm to 5 am Pacific. If Ad Scheduling is an absolute must for your PPC efforts, you will have to create unique campaigns for each time zone to be 100% accurate.
  2. Ad Scheduling is set at the campaign level. All ad groups under that campaign will be governed by those rules. Plan your account structure accordingly.
  3. Campaigns can be paused or have their bids raised/lowered in 15 minute blocks of time.
  4. Bid changes are set as a percentage with Ad Scheduling. You tell Google that you are willing to pay X% more or Y% less for a click in the specified time range.
  5. Ad Scheduling settings can be copied and pasted to other campaigns using AdWords Editor.
  6. AdWords does not provide time-of-day reporting on conversions. You will need to utilize another data source to make decisions on Ad Scheduling. One potential option is Google Analytics.

Using Google Analytics to Create Time-of-Day Conversion Reports

Because Google (and Yahoo!) don’t provide hourly conversion reports, it is very important to access that data somewhere else. In this case, that somewhere else is Google Analytics. Once logged into Analytics, choose “Goals” from the left-hand navigation and then select “Total Conversions.” If you go with this report as-is, you will view all conversions regardless of the traffic source. So we need to focus on PPC. In the upper right-hand corner of your Analytics screen, look for the “Advanced Segments” button and click. Under “Default Segments” look for “Paid Search Traffic.”

Google Analytics Advanced Segments for Hourly Reporting

Now that you are looking at PPC, you can move on to getting to the hourly conversion data. Select your date range and then look for the line that says “Graph by:”. Here you will find a clock. Click the clock icon and your “Total Conversions” report – segmented by “Paid Search Traffic” – will be laid out for you by time-of-day. This will be an accumulative total per-hour based on your time range.

Google Analytics Conversions Time of Day Report

Yahoo! Search Marketing

To be honest, Yahoo!’s Ad Scheduling functionality doesn’t differ greatly from the Google AdWords model. That being said – it differs in areas that are VERY handy for advertisers. Yahoo! also loosely refers to location, demographic and Ad Scheduling settings as “Targeting.” To access these settings in Yahoo!, click on the Campaigns tab and look for three small icons next to each campaign – a head, a globe and a clock. Of course, you’re looking for the clock:

Yahoo! Search Marketing Day Parting

Clicking the clock icon will instantly display that campaign’s Ad Scheduling settings. To modify, simply click “Edit.”

Yahoo! Day Parting Dialogue Box

Remember the sticky situation with Google AdWords and time zones? Yahoo! has eliminated this concern by allowing advertisers to choose to A) target their time zone or B) target the audience’s time zone:

Yahoo! Day Parting and Time Zones

Here are 4 things you need to know about Yahoo!’s Ad Scheduling settings:

  1. Yahoo! lets you choose whether Ad Scheduling is based on your time zone OR the time zone of the targeted audience.
  2. In another crowd pleasing gesture, Yahoo! allows you to decide whether to manage Ad Scheduling at the campaign OR the ad group level. By default, it will be at the campaign level.
  3. And to yet again set themselves apart from Google, Yahoo! allows you to modify bids by percentage OR price.
  4. Yahoo! does not provide a time-of-day report for conversions. Use the instructions listed above for Google Analytics.

Microsoft adCenter

The Ad Scheduling capabilities of adCenter are effective, but decidedly less robust and more restrictive than those offered by either Google or Yahoo!. To access Ad Scheduling settings in adCenter from either a campaign or ad group, click on the “Change Settings” link. Under settings, find the box labeled “Additional Settings.” From here, find where it says “Target by time of day” and click “Edit”:

Microsoft adCenter Day Parting

Microsoft adCenter will only let you pause or modify bids for your campaigns within preset blocks of time:

adCenter Day Parting Restrictive Time Blocks

Here are 5 things you need to know about Ad Scheduling in Microsoft adCenter:

  1. Microsoft will not let you choose a custom time range. You must choose from their preset blocks of time.
  2. Ad Scheduling can be set at either the campaign OR ad group level.
  3. Bid changes are set as a percentage only.
  4. In adCenter, your Ad Scheduling settings are automatically applied to the audience’s time zone. You don’t get to choose. If you literally want your campaigns to shut off at a certain time for your time zone, but you target the entire US, than you will get really confused, really fast. In this scenario, you would likely have to geo-target different time zones in different campaigns or ad groups BEFORE setting up Day Parting.
  5. Microsoft adCenter DOES provide a time-of-day report for conversions. Choose “Hour” as an attribute when building a custom report.

So there you have it. Ad Scheduling in Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter isn’t overly complicated, but there are enough differences and pitfalls that it is easy to make mistakes. One important note I would leave you with today is that if you are in the habit of creating campaigns in Google AdWords and then copying them over to Yahoo! or Microsoft – take the extra time to modify your Ad Scheduling settings to account for each search engines’ differences.

Have a question about Ad Scheduling or know any good tips? Leave me a comment!