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Chris Simmance

Top 10 AdWords Mistakes To Avoid

Chris Simmance
Top 10 AdWords Mistakes To Avoid

Google AdWords can be a great source for generating targeted traffic to a site in order to generate sales or leads from visitors. You can target users in its Search, Display and Video networks which essentially guarantees you’ll reach people.

The trouble is, if you don’t set your campaigns up properly then these campaigns will waste your money with very limited return. In this post I’ll focus on the Google AdWords Search Network, the most common mistakes made in it and how you can avoid them and get better results.

There are many ways in which you can inadvertently waste your account’s budget, miss click opportunities and increase your Cost Per Click. Below are a few of them; there are more but these are the top ones we’ve found when we initially appraise any prospective new client's current AdWords account.

Issue: Not Researching Keywords Properly

keyword research

Within the Google AdWords Search Network, doing your keyword research is absolutely essential. If you aren’t targeting the most relevant terms to what your customers are searching for as well as the products and services you offer your account won’t perform well. We’ve seen furniture companies who are very bespoke and offer a Pine 4 Poster Bed but only target the term ‘Bed.’ Sure, it brought them some traffic to the site, but because it wasn’t relevant to what they offered they sold nothing.

Fix: There are loads of good tools out there to research keywords such as the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, WordStream and SEMrush for example (with SEMrush you can even look at what your competitors are targeting). You need to be looking at your products and services, determining a base list of what you think are relevant terms and then using these tools to understand what variations of them people are using when they search.

Making use of your own sites search reporting in Google Analytics as well as using Google Search Console will also give you an idea of what is most relevant to you and your customers.

Issue: Only Using Broad Match Terms

This one we see a lot, ad groups with only Broad Match keywords in them. It’s likely that we see it as often as we do because it’s the default match type that AdWords sets a keyword in unless otherwise directed. What this means is that your broad keywords would serve your ads; to anyone searching for your search phrase in any order, Synonyms of your keywords and any other relevant variations of the search term.

It has its positive side however, if you are able to monitor your account closely to minimize wasted spend having Broad Match terms can help you to discover new variations of a term that the tools didn’t show.

Unfortunately, as its name suggests, it is broadly matching your desired terms which can mean that your ads serve for much less relevant searches. This would then potentially cost money if you receive an irrelevant click or lower your click through rates because the user doesn’t click your ad at all.

Fix: As mentioned, if you have the time or have hired a decent AdWords Specialist then there is no reason not to include some Broad Match terms in your account. If you are limited on budget or are trying to drive highly targeted sales or leads, it’s often less risky to target using Phrase, Exact Match keywords or if you know your stuff, Modified Broad Match. It’s also much more transparent when it comes to measuring success.

Issue: Not Using Negative Keywords

Again this one is most likely due to the fact that the current AdWords web platform doesn’t make it clear that you even need negative keywords, meaning there are a lot of accounts out there not using them.

Essentially a negative keyword acts in the same way as a keyword you target but in the opposite way. For example if I targeted ‘Free’ as a Broad Match negative then it would prevent any ads showing if I’m not offering something for free. Simplified, if a user searches for ‘Free Red Hats’ then my ad targeting Red Hats would not show to them.

Fix: In a similar way to regular keyword research you must ensure you research your negatives. This will prevent wasted money on clicks for irrelevant terms and help to improve the account health overall. There is a great list here to look through but be careful how you add them. If you inadvertently negatively target a term that you want your Ads to show for you’ll be blocking them from the user.

no negatives

Issue: Not Considering Mobile

It feels like everyone is going on and on about mobile these days in both SEO and PPC as well as UX and CRO (pretty much all the digital marketing acronyms!). Well that’s kind of because day by day, month by month, mobile users are growing.

Mobile users search and engage differently than they do on a Desktop or Tablet and because of this you need to consider a mobile audience when you create your campaigns. This covers ad copy all the way through to extensions and even some targeted keywords.

Fix: There are a number of ways you can ensure your campaigns are also suited for mobile such as:

  • Mobile-Specific Ads – These would be shorter in content, only show the domain as the display URL and are clear in what you want the user to do (buy or signup for example)
  • Click To Call Extensions – Ensuring your ads have a click to call extension included can help to drive engagement in the ads by offering an alternative to clicking through and navigating the site.
  • Mobile Bid Modifiers – (I’ll go into more detail further in the article.) If you know that your site has more mobile traffic or a better (or worse) conversion rate on a mobile then setting bid % modifiers can add or remove budget for mobile searches. This will mean that ads will show more or less frequently to the user depending on the modifier.
  • Short Tail Keywords – Mobile searches are often shorter and use fewer words. Consider targeting some shorter tail terms to mobile users.

Issue: Generic or Poorly Implemented Dynamic Ads

I’m still quite often shocked at this one.

Generic Ads – Some accounts that we’ve looked at only have one generic version of an ad set up across all ad groups. This means that no matter what keyword targeted or search term used your user only sees the one ad version. It’s not tailored to their query and is unlikely to get the click. This lowers the CTR and works to increase CPCs as well as get you less traffic and conversions.

targeted Ads

Dynamic Ads – If done correctly, dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) Ads can work beautifully to appear super tailored to a users query. Unfortunately, as we, and many others have seen I suspect, it’s easy to get it wrong. Poorly implemented Dynamic Keyword Insertion can be the killer of clicks for your campaign. Harming the campaign in the same way as Generic Ads with one added bonus; If it looks stupid or unprofessional it could harm your brand. There’s a great post about it here.

bad dynamic ads


Generic Ads – Ensure that each one of your ad groups has ads tailored to the keywords in it. If there are multiple keywords in an ad group then ensure that they are thematically tailored.

Dynamic Ads – Simply put, only implement this if you understand them and know DKI best practice.

Bonus – You should always have at least two variations of an ad in each ad group. This allows you to split test and improve CTR based on better performing ads.

Whichever way you chose to have your ads, ensure that they are relevant, contain a good, clear CTA and where possible a USP to differentiate you from the competition.

Issue: No Tracking Set Up

How can you run an effective Adwords account if you don’t know how it is performing? How can you make optimisation decisions without all the available information? You can’t!

Google AdWords allows you to link your account to a Google Analytics Profile and a Search Console verified website. This then allows the account to collect much more data that can be used to decide which terms are performing well and which are in need of some attention (or pausing). AdWords may show a Keyword has a great CTR but when you look deeper, say in Google Analytics, you can see that term doesn’t convert well or has a high Bounce Rate. That kind of information can really help you effectively optimise your account.

Fix: To link your accounts you need to go into the Google AdWords settings, linked accounts and pick the appropriate Analytics and Search Console profiles. You then also need to link AdWords to Analytics and its admin area too. Just pick the correct profiles to link and you’ll have Adwords data in Analytics and visa versa. Using Google’s Search Console linked to Adwords allows you to produce a ‘Paid & Organic Report’ which can be pretty useful to understand the two traffic sources and what they mean to your site.

Issue: Too Many Keywords In an Ad Group

At the fundamental level, in order to effectively target an ad to a user's query, you need to make sure that your ad groups are set up right. Having a lot of similar keyword in an ad group may sound logical, the ad group is thematically relevant that way. The trouble is, having too many in an ad group can make it harder and less likely that the ad in that ad group to match the users query. This will lower the CTR and harm the health of the campaign.

Fix: Have single, or at least 2 to 3, keyword ad groups. This then means you can tightly control the ad copy the user see’s and make it super relevant to the query they made. It will boost your CTR which will in turn help to lower your CPCs for the target terms and hopefully get more conversions, if everything else is correct that is.

Issue: Not Considering Ad Scheduling

There are lots of reasons to set up Ad Scheduling on your campaigns that will help to improve their performance. Often we see campaigns that are set live for all hours of the day and all days of the week. This can constrain the account and limit its potential. There are some good reasons to set up scheduling such as:

  • Business Hours – If your business cannot serve your customers during specific periods or you know very few people will be awake and searching at 3 a.m., then there is no need to have the account live at that time.
  • Limited Budgets – If your account budget its limited then it would make sense to reduce the time that it is live for each day to only the prime search or buying times of the day for your business. This will reduce the amount of time that your budget is spread over.
  • International Campaigns – You may need your campaigns to be live in different countries at different times of the day or night depending on how you serve your customers.

Not considering setting up Ad Scheduling can add limitations to your account or waste budget on clicks that are much less likely to convert.

Fix: Make use of Google Analytics and AdWords data available to segment by the time of the day and or the day of the week to determine the best times to have your campaigns live. If certain product or service performs best at a completely different time or day it may be appropriate to migrate that ad group into its own Campaign and set up specific scheduling for it.

Issue: Incorrect Use Of Bid Modifiers

Bid Modifiers can be a great way of directing a little more budget into your campaign based on pre-set rules. You can add manually Bid Modifiers based on the following;

  • Bid modifiersTime of the day
  • Day of the week
  • Device type
  • User Locations

You can also set automatic bid modifiers up that add to your CPC to push ads to the top of the page based on the data AdWords has (for example).

The issue arises when you mix too many modifiers that are running at the same time. For example You have user location and mobile device bid modifiers in place at +10% each. When a user from your modifier set location searches using a mobile device you can be, in effect, doubling up on the % of CPC added to the bid for that term. That can end up costing you more money unnecessarily.

Fix: Plan ahead when using these Bid Modifiers and double check with a few mock scenarios how they may affect your account budget. Google has a fairly simple and concise guide here that might help.

Issue: Missing Opportunities By Not Using Ad Extensions

Ad extensions are ways that you can add more to your ads without paying more. They are known to improve CTRs as well as help improve conversions. Many accounts simply don’t use them or don’t use them to the best advantage possible.

There are so many different ad extensions to use (here’s a list with what they do) that you’d be mad not to make use of them. You can offer alternative landing pages to users offer additional USPs as well as integrate reviews too. You can also set whether they appear on mobile only or across all devices.

Free additional ad real estate that improves your CTR! What’s not to like?

Fix: Review your targeted ads, what your priorities are and where you think you can use ad extensions to stand out against the competition. Take some time to look at what extensions they use and how you can improve on them. You’d be mad not to!

There are plenty more mistakes that can be made such as:

  • Misspellings – Can be a good or bad thing depending on what the misspelling is or appears to look like.
  • Redirected Landing Pages – Can cause higher Bounce Rates and break click tracking.
  • Broken Landing Pages – Fairly obviously, this damages the user experience and conversions, too.
  • Automatic Bidding – Can be dangerous if not set up intelligently and monitored.
  • Bad or No Location Targeting – Can accidentally waste money on clicks in India for your hair salon in London, for example.
  • Not Bidding On Brand Name – Check it out, for some industries and brands you’ll see the competition are bidding for your name!
  • Not Monitoring Competitors – Use Google Adwords Auction Insights and SEMrush Advertising Research to keep ahead of the curve.

There are so many and I can’t list them all, but it all boils down to a few main things really: plan your campaigns, research their structures and targeting, scrutinize your account and keep monitoring and optimizing it.

If you have any big mistakes that you’ve come across and want to share them please add them in the comments below.

Chris Simmance is the Founder of Optus Digital, a Digital Marketing Agency in London specializing in SEO, PPC and content marketing.

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