Got 30+ Locations? A Guide to SEM Budgets, Micro-Budgets, and Budget Pacing

For search engine marketers who are used to a single budget per brand, it can be difficult to transition to using a single budget to promote hundreds or thousands of brick and mortars.  Not only are the setup and maintenance tasks tricky, but spend and budget pacing can easily get out of hand before it’s noticed.

At Balihoo, we work with dozens of brands and agencies that need to split budgets between locations, so we’ve gathered our learnings for multi-location budgeting and pacing.


Tip #1: Sub-accounts

Make sure to build a separate sub-account for each location.  This allows you to truly control all the settings for a location individually, and will be an invaluable setup when you begin implementing budgets, shared budgets, bids, and bid caps.


Tip #2: Budget Planning

Set an individual budget per location, per month.  Do not try to simply “share” your budget across locations, because it leads to a small number of locations eating all of the budget, while the rest never receive traffic.


Tip #3: Shared Budgets

Once you know each location’s monthly budget (or micro-budget), you can use Google AdWord’s Shared Budget feature to spread the budget across all of their AdWords campaigns.  Google will automatically optimize across campaigns, to provide that location with the highest number of conversions at the lowest cost.

Many advertisers will create separate shared budgets for branded and unbranded terms, paid search and display, or seasonal and evergreen.  This is appropriate in scenarios when you need coverage in more than one area at all times, regardless of which area performs better. Use the disbursement strategy that works for your line of business and marketing goals.


Tip #4: Maximize Clicks

Rather than setting individual bids for each keyword across all your locations, use the Maximize Clicks setting in AdWords, on the Campaign level. Because factors like the competitive landscape and total search volume will vary in each location, you’re better off letting Google optimize your bids on your behalf. Maximize Clicks will set keyword bids for that individual sub-account, with a cap set by you.  This way, you don’t have to worry about the difference in click value between various markets


Tip #5: Don’t Spread Budgets Too Thin

Be very careful not to disseminate your budget too granularly.  If you have a $10,000 monthly budget for local campaigns, 200 locations, with 4 campaigns each, that only works out to daily budgets of around $0.42 for each campaign.  That’s not nearly enough budget for AdWords to begin running your ads.  If budget is that limited, think about only advertising for a segment of your locations, or limiting the number of campaigns and ad groups to only the best performing, to maximize outcome.


Tip #6: Pace Your Budget Correctly

Organizationally, you’re probably budgeting per month. Yet, AdWords only accepts “daily” budgets.  When starting out, many SEM’s will just take the monthly budget and divide it by 30, but ultimately, this leads to under-spending (See Tip #5 for a primary reason this happens).

You need to have a budget pacing plan that takes into account the daily underspending (and occasional overspending) that occurs naturally in AdWords.  What happens to the funds on the table at the end of each day, for each location?

Some automation platforms will simply take the leftover money each day and spread it across the remaining days of the month.  This is a bad idea, because advertiser’s end up with a spending model that favors spending most of the budget towards the end of the month, when the Daily Budget is naturally at it’s highest:



A better pacing model is to take leftover money each day and allocate it to the next day only.  For example, if day 1 budget is $4.00, but only $2.00 is spent, then the day 2 budget becomes $6.00. (Allocated budget of $4.00 plus the leftover $2.00 from day 1).

This results in more steady spending throughout the month:



Multi-location budgeting and pacing can be tricky, but is a critical piece to launching a local-digital strategy.  Taking the time to plan, setup correctly, and automate campaigns using data rules with Balihoo will allow each of your locations’ campaigns to thrive while you focus on other initiatives.  When advertising is purpose-built for local, the results can be phenomenal and typically outperform broad national campaigns.

To learn more about automated local SEM marketing, view our Solutions.