What You Need to Know About the Google Ads Learning Phase

Learning is an essential part of life. You learn how to walk. You learn your ABCs, and you learn how to drive a car. Even as an adult, why would you stop learning now? You’ve been learning every day of your life up to this point. Marketing is the same way with the ever-changing and ever-evolving marketing landscape. Learning is a necessity. 

When you’re talking about marketing and learning, there is no bigger juggernaut than Google. And there is no shortage of marketing data points to track and follow. Google has created the Google Ads learning phase to assist in this learning. In fact, in the real-time marketing auction blitz that is Google Ads, Google tracks over 40,000 different data points with every search auction conducted. According to Workstream, there are about 3.5 BILLION Google searches done every day worldwide, and that works out to just over 40,500 searches, on average worldwide every second. Now, that is a lot of learning to do!

Google knows that no one has the time or ability to track over 40,000 data points at a rate of 40,500 searches a second when bidding. So they created automated bidding strategies (Learn more about the automated bidding strategies here) to assist your Google Ads campaign. But the learning still has to happen. Google created the Google Ads learning phase to help you score the biggest bang for your marketing buck. Here’s how it works:

What happens during the Google Ads learning phase?

What happens during the Google Ads learning phase? That all depends on which Adwords bidding strategy you choose to use. Before we get to the Google Ads learning phase, you need to understand how Google learns every time you do a Google search. Google tracks and records all searches. They track every search to your IP address, and it creates a “profile” or “ball of data.” Some of the information you give to Google when you fill out forms, sign up for a Gmail account, or multiple other times, you divulge personal information online. Some information they get from your behaviors when using Google as well as your IP address. Some examples of this information would be: what type of search terms do you use? Do you typically do navigational, informational, or transactional searches? Do you click ads? How many pages do you view before you click a link? What do you search for? How long do you spend on a site? These are all just a few examples of the behavioral information that they gather from you and about you. As I stated earlier, it works out to just about 40,000 data points. These make up your “ball of data” or your search profile. 

Now that we understand the types of data profiles that Google uses, we can start looking at the Google Ads learning phase and how they work.

Google Ads Learning Phase

OK. You have an account in Google Ads, and you’ve created your campaign. It could be a campaign you have had for a few months, a few years, a few days, or brand new. You tell Google what is essential for your account and your campaign by putting in search terms. Let’s say you want to sell cat food. Your search terms will be cat food (brand name) cat food, food that cats eat, etc. But you should also put negative keywords to tell the campaign what you don’t want to show. For instance, you don’t want to show fish food, dog food, steaks, etc. You always have your preferred search terms and your negative terms. Finally, you enter your conversion actions.

Determining Conversion Actions

What are conversion actions? These are the actions that matter most to you. What you see value in. Do you want somebody to fill out a form? Do you want somebody to call you from your Google ad? Do you want someone to purchase off of your website? All these conversion actions, your search terms, your negative words, and what areas you want to target must be defined. You want to focus only on Phoenix or target all of the U.S., or you are a huge company, and you want to target all of North America. With conversion actions, you’re telling Google what matters to you and what you want to focus on, your brand, what your market is, what you’re selling, or wanting to get people to do for you. Now you’ve created your micro profile of the people you want as your clients! It’s all based on this information. 

Depending on how long your account’s been running, Google will fill in the blanks with the other pieces historically from your account. If it’s a brand new campaign, it doesn’t have a lot of performance data to go off of, so Google begins by branching out and looking at the industry standards to fill in the gaps of the base profile.

The Google Ads learning phase also relies on which Google Ad automated bidding strategy you set for your campaign: to maximize clicks, maximize conversions, target ROAS, or whichever best suits your Google Ads campaign type and goals. When you make this change, your Google Ads account is now eligible for the Google Ads learning phase. 

What does eligible learning mean in Google ads? Google Ads eligible learning means that Google will use it’s advanced data algorithm to find the “perfect customer profile” to determine how it will bid using your selected Adwords bidding strategies. Google looks at what your perfect customer is and then creates a “perfect customer profile.” That is the start of the learning phase.

What happens during the learning phase? Google has your campaign, your bids, and what you are willing to pay per day. Google knows what keywords you want to target. They know what actions are of value to you. You have told them all of this. Then they take a look at previous performance data in your account to see how many times your ads have been clicked, and how many times your conversion actions have been completed. Google then creates your seed profile – your perfect customer profile seed.

So the Google algorithm says, “This is your perfect customer right here.” Anybody that matches this profile, we will want to bid for aggressively. But Google knows marketing trends change, patterns change, and needs to learn to develop and adapt that initial seed into what you want as your perfect customer or what makes the best customer for your business. 

Google now has your perfect customer seed in its virtual hand. Somebody down the road searches for cat food. It looks at the customer profile that Google’s created for them based on their historical data and then compares it to your seed. The closer that their profile is to your seed, the more aggressive Google will bid to win that business for you. Google will look at what that person does. Do they take the types of actions you want, or not? Google then absorbs that profile information and integrates it into your seed. Google twists it, makes adjustments based on what the user did to spur the growth of that seed into a budding sprout. Now it’s doing this every time somebody searches your desired terms. Your seed, your sprout, is continuously changing and evolving based on the actions of real people searching Google.

Google says, “Hey, this profile is close to ideal,” so we’re going to bid aggressively, but they end up not doing the activities that you value – form fills, calls, or others. It looks at that profile, and then it adjusts that seed into a sprout. It does this continuously all day, every day as search volume allows, based on what you want for your keywords, for your conversions, for your customers, until it has the perfect profile for your customer. This process takes, on average, about seven days to determine the ideal customer profile (seed). Once it has established your perfect profile and your ideal customer, your seed will grow into a sprout, and your sprout eventually grows into a tree. Now you have a bountiful tree just dropping conversions, perfect clients, and perfect customers onto your plate. That’s what the Google Ads learning phase is complete. 

The Google Ads Learning Phase is Never Done for Good

But, the Google Ads learning phase is never completely done. The learning phase will always start over if you adjust your campaign. You might raise the budget by 20 percent or more, typically. You might remove many keywords or add a bunch of keywords, whether they are search terms or are negative keywords. You might change a large portion of ad copy, or you make any real significant changes. Each of these changes will throw off that perfect profile, and Google will reengage in the learning phase to optimize your customer profile to the new parameters.

Your campaign is going to become Google Ads eligible learning again. It will go through that process, taking into account everything it’s done in the past for you, along with the new changes to your campaign.

Now, the thing to remember is you don’t want to make a lot of changes to a campaign while it’s in the Google Ads learning phase, because it is learning, it is growing, it is developing. The more changes you make during the learning phase, the longer your learning phase will be. The learning phase is a bit like a rollercoaster. You will have peaks and valleys, twists, and turns. There will be days when you’ll look, and everything is working fantastic. “Look at this. I’m way up here!” The next day, you’re way down there, and you’re thinking, “whoa, man, what’s going on?” That’s because it’s learning. It’s twisting, learning, pampering, changing, and shifting that profile, working away to figure out the absolute best perfect customer profile for your account. Try not to get too focused on the rollercoaster ride of the learning phase – it’s just part of the process.

I know it seems like a lot of work, and you’re putting a lot of faith into the Google algorithm to do this for you. But keep this in mind: how many data points do you know about your customer? I guarantee you it’s a fraction of 40,000. Do you trust the 40,000 different touchpoints Google used to hone in on that perfect profile? Or do you believe the 15 to 20 data points you currently know? You’ve already incorporated those 20 data points into the account, so why not get the additional 40,000 touchpoints Google tracks and let them do the learning for you? Trust the process, and stick with it. Now, go out and get your ideal customer! One caveat: if you’re not comfortable tackling this yourself, hire an experienced digital agency or team to take care of it all, so you can focus on what you do best. It’s worth it.

Still not confident that you can successfully run your Google Ads account and optimize your ads? Get in touch with Serendipit. We’re masters of marketing, executors of engagement, and connoisseurs of conversations, and we have all the tools & knowledge to help you increase your brand’s reach.

Written By: Eric B, Paid Media Specialist