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Google AdWords Standard and Accelerated Delivery: The Simple Story of The Tortoise and The Hare

Posted on Monday, November 22nd, 2010 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEM

Co-authored by Marcus McBride

When you have an account that has a limited budget, a Search Marketer is always faced with how to deliver their ads most efficiently.  Google AdWords gives you the option of delivering ads two ways – accelerated or standard. This setting affects how fast your ads are served throughout the day, from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Do you want to take the tortoise approach (standard delivery) and serve your ads more consistently throughout the day or the hare approach (accelerated delivery) and serve your ads as fast as possible? Both have their disadvantages. Setting your ads to accelerated delivery could exhaust your daily budget and keep your ads from running later in the day, when people may be home surfing the web. However, setting your ads to standard delivery may mean you miss customers earlier in the day. Please keep in mind your budget will also limit how often your ads are seen.

Standard delivery is the default for all campaigns. To find this setting, select a campaign, click on the “Settings” tab, scroll down to “Bidding and Budgeting.”

Our account team at The Search Agency decided to test the impact on performance of accelerated vs. standard delivery.  We partnered with one of our clients– a well-known manufacturer of consumer technology — to conduct this test and selected a non-brand campaign that historically performed very well for the advertiser.    We ran the campaign with a fixed daily budget of $2,000  for 14 days on accelerated and then switched to standard delivery at 12:01AM for the next 14 days.  The campaign was not affected by seasonality or outside marketing.

Here are the overall results:

For this particular campaign, the transition from Accelerated to Standard Delivery had a positive impact on performance:

  • Total impressions decreased 21%
  • Clicks increased 1%
  • Click-Through Rate increased 27%
  • Total cost decreased 11%
  • Cost per click decreased 11%
  • Conversions increased 18%
  • Conversion rate increased 17%
  • Cost per acquisition decreased 24%

The next questions we asked was “At what time of day do our ads appear under each setting?” and “When does the campaign shut off due to budget being spent?”

Looking at the data above shows that the campaign, when set to accelerated, was only live until about 8-10 a.m. on most days and was not live during the afternoons about 80% of the time. When set to standard delivery, the ads were more evenly distributed throughout the day, and the campaign was live every day until at least 6p.m.

So, the moral of the Google AdWords tortoise and hare story? Our test shows that, in this case, standard delivery performed better across all key metrics. Some search marketers only believe in accelerated delivery, as they want to make sure they serve their ads as fast as possible, especially those with limited time promotions. We will continue to test here and report back, but in the meantime, see what works best for your account and let us know who wins the race.

About Lindsay Crone

Lindsay is a Senior Creative Editor for the SEM and SEO Departments at The Search Agency. She is responsible for the day-to-day and long term creative optimization and maintenance projects for search engine campaigns. Specific duties include writing dynamic ad copy, creating extensive and well themed keyword lists, appropriately targeting audiences through geographic and demographic settings, testing creative components, and keeping up with advances in the industry. Prior to joining TSA, Lindsay worked as a Search Campaign Manager for Advertising.com/AOL. Before Advertising.com, Lindsay served in marketing roles for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Lindsay graduated from James Madison University, in 2008, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration (Business-to-Consumer Marketing concentration) and a Minor in Non-Profit Studies. Outside of work Lindsay enjoys spending time with her family, renovating her home with her husband, exercising with her dog, and enjoying Maryland life.

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16 Responses to “Google AdWords Standard and Accelerated Delivery: The Simple Story of The Tortoise and The Hare”

  1. David says:

    Terrific analysis showing the value of the time of day in impacting results. Thank you Lindsay.

  2. frank says:

    Interesting study. In addition to your points about standard/ accelerated delivery, it highlights the importance of day-parting when you have limited budgets.
    I also find it interesting that your CPCs were lower when you evenly paced your spend. i would have assumed your CPCs would have been higher since you are spending more of your budget during peak time of days.

  3. David Chung says:

    I’m curious to see how this would pan out if you didn’t have to take into consideration daily budget caps.

  4. Pablo Gaviria says:

    Thank you for an interesting article.

    I thought I share some of my data with you. Some notes/comments:

    – CTR increases steadily throughout the day.
    – No changes in CPCcan be identified as function of hour in the day (details not disclosed).
    – Late evening seems to be the most profitable time of day.
    – Afternoon seems to be the least profitable time of day.
    – In the dataset it is assumed an average purchase time of 15 minutes. Hence revenue is skewed 15 minutes to the left.
    – Dataset is a full three month period and includes weekdays as well as weekends.
    – Average customer is European (workday 8-16) individuals (not businesses)
    – Cost is AdWords only
    – Revenue is directly generated from AdWords ads. All other sources excluded
    – Don’t get focused on overall result being negative – look at the trends.
    – BTW results are not negative, some sources of revenue and returning visitors are not included due to uncertainties in tracking :)

    Hope it was interesting,

  5. Mike Jarvinen says:

    Good perspective and interesting findings. I think this again shows that capping of budget (meaning you pause the best and worst keywords at the same time) within a campaign interday will generally lead to inefficiency. The goal therefore is always to move down in position to cut per unit costs in ratio to performance and never cap in budget.

    Standard Setting – Sometimes There is a Need
    • If you have a positional target where you can’t move down in position, putting a budget cap and using the standard traffic delivery setting makes sense as the budget is still finite.
    • If you know the cost is variant and you need to make sure you’re hitting a budget right on, putting a budget cap and using the standard traffic delivery setting makes sense.

    Accelerated Setting – The General Best Practice
    However, putting a campaign on “standard” masks when the budget is hitting so you can’t define the missed opportunity. As an account allows, a general best practice is to leave accounts on accelerated to maximize the traffic but be constantly checking that budget caps aren’t hitting and bid levels are being altered to “bid to the budget”.

  6. Lindsay says:

    Thank you all for the detailed feedback. When we test this again I will take into consideration the points above and be sure to note the effects. I am interested to see if the CPAs will decrease for another advertiser when budget caps are in place.

    Please keep the comments coming!

  7. Q. Was this run on Search, Search with search partners, auto display placement, or managed display placement?

    While I at first thought accelerated would be better, I can now see a few reasons that make sense that standard could be better:

    – If your demographic is not time-sensitive (at work, school, etc.) then it makes sense that they may search at any time depending on the topic.

    – I suspect poorer performance earlier in the day could be due to two main factors. 1) click fraud may be more starting at midnight when the main sources of most fraud are awake, and 2) the fact that as a campaign gets clicks during the day the CPC may be going down. I think it may get “reset” at midnight but have no data on this.

    – Since few people just do one search and look at just one page of results, I think that may explain the lower impressions and higher clicks. Ads showing all the time are going to “hog” the space and pay more for lower CTR. Your ads will also be seen more by all those SEOs checking the rankings over and over and over…

    -I hope that someone posts who has a budget they never hit. That may provide some additional interesting data.


    • Lindsay says:

      Thank you for the comment, Chris.

      This was run on a campaign that was targeted to Search with Search Partners. Not display/content or placements.

  8. ben says:

    Occasionally, I see Google Adwords show something like this “We’ll show this ads occasionally due to budget limit…”

    What’s the difference between the “standard delivery” and “show ads occasionally”?

    • Lindsay says:

      Hi Ben,

      I believe the message “We’ll show this ad occasionally due to limited budget” is an alert at the ad level to warn you that your budget is inhibiting your ad service. “Standard Delivery” is a delivery method/setting. If you are seeing the “show ads occasionally” that is probably happening due to the setting and budget.

      I hope that answers your question.

      Thank you for reading,

  9. Jeff D says:

    It’s probably way to late for this question, as this test was run 3 years ago at this point. It would be interesting to know what the impression share was though.

    I’m wondering if you had an impression share closer to 100% if it would matter which delivery system was used.



  10. Alexey says:

    Guys, are you serious? There are so many factors which affect conversion rate other and other KPI which you have shared other than season factors. You don’t have statistically significant amount of data to share such results.


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