We do a lot of audits of AdWords accounts to give advertisers a “second opinion” on the account and give them recommendations on how to improve things.
And having been behind the scenes of a bunch of AdWords accounts, I’m pretty confident in saying that, even if they’re making money with AdWords, most advertisers are still blowing way more money than they should on clicks that have no chance of turning a profit.
Or, just as bad, leaving a lot of money on the table because of poorly set up and/or managed AdWords campaigns.
In this article, I’m going to share with you 7 common (and not so common) mistakes AdWords advertisers make so you can avoid making them in your AdWords campaigns.
1 – Putting “Search” and “Display” in the Same Campaign
For those new to AdWords, quick lesson…
There are basically two networks you can run your campaigns on.
- Search Network – This is where your ads can show up on Google.com (and other search engines that partner with Google) when someone does a keyword search.
- Display Network – This is where your ads can show up on 1000s of potential websites in the Google Display Network that display Google ads on them.
The way you select keywords is different.
The way you write ads is different.
The way you set bids is different.
Yet I still see campaigns that combine the two.
Now Google’s changed the game recently. They started to offer what they call “Search With Display Select”. If you’re a new advertiser, this is the only option you have if you want to run ads on both networks.
If you’ve been running a campaign targeting Search and Display, you’re essentially grandfathered in if you don’t want to “upgrade”, though Google is encouraging advertisers to make the switch.
Either way, my recommendation still is to keep Search and Display separate. The Search With Display Select supposedly “uses improved signals and methods of predicting when and where your ads are likely to perform best, and sets a higher bar for when to show them.”
That sounds good and all, but Search and Display are still separate animals and belong in different cages. So if you’re running campaigns targeting both, break each out into their own campaigns.
2 – Relying Solely on Broads (Broad Match, That Is)
Match types are a big deal in Google Search campaigns. The match types of your keywords determine what search terms your ads are eligible to appear for.
Here are the 4 main match types…
1. Exact Match – This is where your keyword has to match the search query someone types into Google exactly. So if your keyword is ‘underwater bowling’, the only time your ad can appear is when someone types ‘underwater bowling’ verbatim in Google.
2. Phrase Match – This is where your keyword has to appear in the same order it’s typed in the search query in order for your ad to appear.
So if ‘underwater bowling’ is phrase match in your campaign, you could match for search queries like:
- ‘the best underwater bowling locations’
- ‘underwater bowling in miami’
However, if someone types in ‘underwater pin bowling’ or ‘bowling underwater’, your ads could NOT be displayed because the words ‘underwater’ and ‘bowling’ are not next to each other in the same order they appear in your phrase match keyword.
3. Broad Match – This is where Google has a lot of latitude to determine what search queries are relevant to your keyword. But Google’s idea of relevant and your idea of relevant may be quite different so your ads may potentially appear for terms like ‘bowling alley’, ‘underwater photography’ or ‘water sports’ if the keyword ‘underwater bowling’ is set to Broad Match in your campaigns.
4. Broad Match Modifier – This is kind of a hybrid between Broad and Phrase match. With BMM, you tell Google that each word in your keyword HAS to be in the search query in order for your ad to appear. It just doesn’t matter what order. So your ad could appear for the search term ‘bowling underwater’ by using BMM.
Here’s what Google has to say on the matter…
A lot of advertisers add a bunch of Broad Match keywords to their campaign and that’s it.
First, your ads are going to show up for a lot of irrelevant searches which means you’ll be blowing budget on clicks that have no shot of getting you any business.
Second, because you never quite know what search terms are going to match with your broad match keywords, it’s difficult to write ads that are laser targeted to the words your prospects are typing into Google.
And the more relevant your ads are to the keywords, generally the more people will click on them and the better your Quality Score will be (Quality Score being the algorithm Google uses to determine where your ads rank and how much you pay per click).
Here’s what Google has to say about Quality Score…
So stay away from using Broad Match. (Unless you’re more advanced and want to run some Broad Match keywords as a test to see if you can mine the Search Query data to find some good keywords you can add to the campaign that you might not have thought of otherwise.)
Pro Tip: Most campaigns we set up use a combination of Exact Match and Broad Match Modifier keywords. You could do worse than following that strategy.
3 – Not Weeding Out The Bad Placements
This is for those of you running (or planning to run) Display Network campaigns.
Depending on your niche, the Display Network has the potential to drive a lot more traffic and conversions than a Search campaign.
And there are a number of different ways to target people on the Display Network as well including:
- Topic Targeting
- Interest Targeting
- Contextual Targeting (keyword targeting)
Let’s use Topic Targeting as an example. With Topic Targeting, you can run ads on web pages that are related to the topic categories and/or subcategories you select (you have over 1700 to choose from).
Say you’re selling a product about lead generation strategies that’s targeted to small business owners. So one of the Topic categories you choose is “Marketing”.
Well, here’s the rub. The web pages Google shows your ads on (because they deem them related to the topic of Marketing) may have nothing whatsoever to do with marketing… at least by most people’s definition of the word!
As an example, we were running a campaign that was targeting the “Marketing” subcategory and noticed that one of the web pages my ads were running on was a live web cam of a chicken coop in the Boston area. Seriously!
What that has to do with marketing, I have no idea. But that web page certainly wasn’t relevant to what our client was offering.
Which brings us to the point…
When you run Display campaigns, you have to be VERY vigilant and look at what web pages your ads are appearing on. It’s very easy to spend a lot of money showing your ads on web pages that your ads have no business running on.
So how to avoid/limit this from happening?
By using a Placement report. This shows you the web pages your ads have been running on (along with data on Impressions, Clicks, Conversions, etc.)
So go into your Display campaigns on a regular basis, look at the placements your ads have been appearing on and exclude the junk (you have the ability to any placement you want).
And just because you have a campaign that’s been humming along for a while, don’t think you can skip doing this. Take a look at this recent screenshot from a campaign we’re running…
The campaign had been averaging about 5,000 Impressions per day for months and then, in the course of a few days (with no changes made on our part), traffic spiked to over 100,000 Impressions per day. And this was due largely to one website our ads started showing on. The site was only slightly related to the service being offered but led to no conversions despite the big uptick in traffic.
So we blocked it.
You’ve gotta be careful on the Display Network because, unless you have things set up to only show ads on specific websites (known as Managed Placements), you HAVE to be vigilant and weed out the bad placements or you/your clients will be paying for a ton of junk traffic.
One last tip here…
In Display Network campaigns, there are ‘Site Category’ options (which you’ll find on the Display Network tab in your account) that lets you exclude certain types of sites so your ads don’t appear on them.
So, for example, if you want to exclude…
- sites with sexually suggestive content
- parked domains
- error pages
… you can do so here.
This helps prevent your ads from appearing on questionable sites, though you still need to watch things closely!
4 – Poor Structure
How you structure your keywords, ad groups and campaigns in AdWords makes a big difference in results.
A lot of accounts I see only have 1 campaign and some of those have only one ad group with all the keywords (usually broad match) in the campaign dumped into that group.
If that describes your campaign, you need to make some big changes!
A structure like that pretty much ensures you’re overpaying for clicks and your prospects are not seeing very targeted ads (so are not clicking on your ads) and you’re letting business slip through your fingers.
The way to structure your campaigns is to group your keywords (or placements, targeting options on the Display Network) into tightly related groups.
So if you’re selling sporting goods, you don’t want an ad group with all your golf related keywords in it. Better is to split those keywords into ad groups with…
- 1 for golf clubs
- 1 for golf balls
- 1 for golf shoes, etc.
Even better is to break those out into more targeted ad groups so the keywords related to putters are in 1 ad group, the keywords for kids golf clubs in another and the keywords for used golf clubs in another.
And you can keep going with this, creating more and more targeted ad groups in your campaigns.
Now there is a difference between what’s possible and what’s practical in AdWords. In an ideal world, every keyword would be in its own campaign or ad group with highly relevant ad copy, hyper optimized bidding, etc. But in the real world, that’s probably not practical.
So 80/20 things. In many cases, it does make sense to have your top keywords (the ones that produce the bulk of your traffic/leads/sales) broken out into their own ad groups or campaigns and optimize the hell out of them!
For the rest of your keywords, how you segment them really depends on your campaign, goals, industry, etc.
A simple, yet effective strategy is to have a “Majors” and “Minors” campaign. The “Minors” campaign is for relatively unproven keywords that you want to test to see if they’ve got what it takes. The “Majors” campaign is full of the proven, successful keywords that are producing and have shown they deserve extra attention and handling.
You could also segment things by geography, product/service type, match type and more.
However, you do it, just do it! Don’t run accounts with 1 campaign with a handful of ad groups. You’re not doing yourself any favors and are putting way more into Google’s bank account than you should be.
5 – Not Truly Split Testing
Most of you are probably familiar with the concept of split testing. It’s when you essentially have a competition between 2 or more ads, landing pages, banners, etc. to see which one performs the best.
In AdWords, you want to have at least 2 ads per ad group and let them all battle it out to see which one delivers the best results. Then you pause or delete the ad that didn’t perform as well and, ideally, replace it with a new one and start the battle all over again.
A lot of campaigns I see these days have at least 2 ads per ad group, which is good, but I still see a bunch of issues with the ways people handle the split testing which doom their results.
Here are 3 of the main ones…
1. Not pausing underperforming ads.
This is pretty straightforward. If you have ads that are underperforming in an ad group, get rid of them! They’re hurting your CTRs, conversions and making you pay more for clicks than need be.
If you need help determining which ads are winning/losing split tests, use a tool like the one at splittester.com which will calculate if the results you’re seeing are statistically significant or not.
2. Just focusing on Clickthrough Rates (CTRs)
Yes, CTRs are important. But an ad with a sky high CTR may have a dismal Conversion Rate. If your ad with a 20% CTR is converting at 1% and your ad with a 10% CTR is converting at 25%, which one are you going to keep? A lot of advertisers don’t ask themselves that question.
So, keep the goals of your campaign in mind when split testing and make sure you’re looking at metrics like…
- Conversion Rates
- Return on Ad Spend
- Profit Per Impression, etc
… when picking winners and losers.
3. Not testing a variety of ads
Dr. Glenn Livingston put it best,
“Most people think they’ve tested 20 ads, but they’ve really just tested 2 ads 10 different times.”
Rearranging some words, shifting punctuation around or other minor changes can make a difference in CTRs. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not truly split testing different ads.
The biggest jumps in CTRs are generally going to come from completely different ad concepts.
So test going emotional in your ad copy instead of playing it straight and boring like your competitors.
Try focusing on the different benefits your product offers. Do more people respond to the ad touting that your magic pill can cure cancer or improve their sex drive?
Try testing completely different offers. Does “Free Shipping” appeal more to your prospects than “Buy 1 Get 1 Free”?
Split testing wildly different ideas and consistently pausing the losing ads is one of THE best things you can do for the performance of your AdWords account.
6 – Ignoring Impression Share
There’s no shortage of metrics you can keep your eye on in an AdWords campaign… CTR, Conversion Rate and Quality Score being some of the biggies.
But you don’t hear many people focusing too much attention on one that we consider to be one of the most important.
Impression Share is simply the number of impressions your ad received divided by the number it was eligible to receive.
For example, let’s say 1000 people searched for the exact match term “underwater bowling”. You’re bidding on that keyword and got 500 Impressions. So your Impression Share would be 50%.
You can add Impression Share data to the metrics you see in your account through the ‘Competitive metrics’ option in the ‘Customize columns’ screen (seen below).
There are a few reasons why keeping an eye on Impression Share is important.
First, Impression Share is a strong indicator of how well your campaign is performing on your core keywords vs. your competitors. If you have a low Impression Share, you know you need to keep working hard to improve your campaign.
Second, when you see a competitor move up the rankings and capture a higher Impression Share, it’s a good opportunity to discover what they’re doing differently. This will often give you insights into ad creatives or landing pages that can help you improve your own campaign.
Lastly, maximizing Impression Share (so you have the highest Impression Share for a particular keyword or set of keywords) always means you are not leaving profits on the table. It also always means that you are paying less per click (50% or more) than all of the other advertisers for the same exact keyword(s).
If you have a low Impression Share, AdWords provides data that tells you why. It’s usually due to budget or low ad rank. Pay attention to that data for your top keywords so you can maximize the return you get from them.
7 – Only Using Google
AdWords is great.
I truly believe it’s the most elegantly designed paid advertising platform ever developed.
But it ain’t the only game in town. And, if you’re relying on AdWords for most, if not all, of your leads/sales, you’re up the creek without a paddle.
I have clients in this position and it’s painful to watch. Despite discussions about diversifying lead flow, it’s easy to get complacent and get lulled into a false sense of security that Mother Google will always be there to provide you with nice, consistent, affordable leads.
But when leads drop off due to seasonality, a change in the marketplace, more competition, etc., panic sets in. And understandably so. If the success of your business is directly linked to AdWords (or any single source of traffic), you’d be panicking too if the water from that spigot starts drying up.
Don’t put yourself in that position. There are plenty of other paid and “free” sources of traffic out there… both online and offline. Some of the online ones are really coming into their own lately and we’ve seen results from some of them that crush what AdWords can produce.