Top Ten AdWords Mistakes

The current version of our free guide "10 Things Commonly Done Wrong in Google AdWords" runs to 13 pages. Granted not everybody uses armchair/fireplace time to catch up on digital marketing strategy. So although this is not as concise as an Executive Summary* here is a shorter version of the same top 10 AdWords mistakes!

*Never put AdWords management in the hands of people who demand executive summaries 😛

Audio version of this blog post (13 minute read)

A hand symbolically places some poker chips on a laptop screen and the screen is showing the AdWords homepage. Headline, top ten adwords mistakes

Avoiding some common mistakes can get you on the right path to working on AdWords systematically, not just throwing money at it and hoping for the best...

Google AdWords is a marketing weapon that businesses should not ignore. Sure, it is not for every business, but no business should ignore it. If you are not doing AdWords you should know why, not just because "no way".

In fact, for many small businesses and startups it is likely to be your principal marketing channel and a matter of significant investment to gain critical mass.

For such an important area it is questionable whether most firms should be attempting to DIY their PPC, and [from our admittedly biased point of view] the better way to do it is with help from a PPC-specialized agency.

Having said all that (!) if you are forging ahead with your AdWords by yourself (or as an internal marketing team) - GREAT because anything you do will be better than not daring to get involved in PPC at all!

So here are our tips on the most common 10 mistakes made in AdWords, and get our full free guide here (PDF, no signup required) to read into the reasons a bit more.

Mistake 1 - Mixing The Display Network With Search

This is probably the most troublesome default recommendation of the Google AdWords system (assuming you have avoided the hell of AdWords Express).

search network with display select KPGB_20151207_120802

AdWords wants you to mix Search advertising with Display advertising.

Do not do this.

If you want Search, you should know why.

If you want Display, you should also know why. Two really different ways of advertising.

If you really want both, create two campaigns.

You are not going to lack impressions to advertise to in Google Search.

Adding "Display Select" is just a way of saying you want to burn some money on Display advertising but don't actually want to know how it works or manage its targeting and performance.

We assume you are not here in AdWords to burn cash for fun.

So just don't do it.

Mistake 2 - Paying For Mobile Traffic You’re Not Ready For

By default you will get a load of mobile impressions and clicks in your campaigns. Not surprising since the whole world uses the web with all sorts of mobile devices.

But how good is your website for mobile viewers who:

  • are viewing on a small screen
  • rely on touch not a mouse
  • can't input text easily
  • are likely more distracted than desktop users
  • are possibly away from home / desk

If your website can serve these users just as well as desktop users, great. But most websites can't claim that: just check your Analytics for attention signals from mobile users. Given a finite advertising budget, wouldn't you prefer to have more desktop users?

Screenshot of a table from Google Analytics showing some real life stats of lower average session duration for mobile clients as measured by screen resolution

Most sites will see lower attention from mobile visitors. In this example you can see the evidence in the lower average session duration of users on mobile devices (as indicated by lower screen resolutions). Address this in your site design, content, and performance. But until you feel it is getting better, think twice about using up finite ad budgets on mobile traffic.

Getting your website good for mobile is essential. But if you are not already ahead in that design / content / usability challenge, then think twice about paying for traffic equally from all devices.

Mistake 3 - Targeting The Whole World / Country Instead Of Local Areas

The first reason to restrict your advertising to local areas is because your ad budget is finite and will hardly ever be big enough to capture all the searches / impressions that you could. Therefore even if your business is worldwide or nationwide, you'd better focus on areas that perform better.

screenshot of an area radius targeting map from AdWords

Targeting a series of towns, and comparing results against each other to find the best of them, is a good tactic when figuring out how to spend limited ad budget. This screenshot shows one campaign's location targeting based on radius around postcodes of branches of a business.

The second reason to run campaigns focused on geographic areas is because it allows you easily to compare different regions/locations against each other. In turn this feeds back into prioritizing the best locations to concentrate on.

Mistake 4 - Advertising On Broad Informational Terms

Firstly you should avoid only advertising on broad match keywords: another of those AdWords defaults that will take you straight to a maxed out click budget. If you don't know what broad match keywords are, the likelihood is that you are advertising on them! See here for the official Google help page on keyword match types.

Secondly, even if you have started to narrow down your keyword targeting with better matching, you may be tempted to try to "throw the net wide" by going for keywords that relate to informational searches.

For example, if you are a dentist offering tooth-whitening procedures in Canterbury, which keyword seems better?

tooth whitening dentist canterbury
is tooth whitening safe

Matching the "safe" search is just informational / research / interest, and will run the risk of matching even more irrelevant searches like:

is home tooth whitening kit safe
is tooth whitening dog food safe for poodles

screenshot of two ads at the top of google UK search results for home tooth whitening kit safe

These two AdWords advertisers are either deliberately aggressive in attempting to reach general informational search queries, or have simply failed to implement restrictions to the scope of what keywords they're advertising against. Note that neither ad (nor the landing pages) provide information about safety, which is what the user is searching for.

Finally, another aspect of being overly broad is forgetting to add negative keywords. Even if your matching is quite specific you can inadvertently be advertising on lots of purely informational searches by bloggers, researchers, or kids doing their homework.

Mistake 5 - Neglecting The Importance Of The Ad Text

You get a very limited amount of space to project your message in AdWords Search - which for the purposes of normal campaigns are just text ads. It makes sense since you have the bare minimum quantity of milliseconds of attention from people anyway, as they skim around a Google search results page.

But the sheer minimalism of the AdWords ad is why small improvements (and small mistakes) can have a disproportionate effect. When people are making a millisecond unconscious snap decision whether to pause and look at your ad (let alone click it), how you write an ad becomes highly important.

Screenshot of search results on Google for organic pet food showing three top ads which do not mention the keyword organic

The search "organic dog food" is fairly commercially oriented and probably quite competitive. Two out of three of the top ads here fail to mention the keyword "organic" to match this key intent.

Many AdWords advertisers set their original ad and never change it, instead focusing on optimizing bids and keyword selections. But small differences in ads can double or halve your click-through rates, so neglecting to experiment with your ads means you may be missing opportunities and even dropping keywords which are potentially valuable.

Mistake 6 - Sending Clicks To Your Homepage

Here is a short one: your homepage is rarely... no, practically never, the correct place to send clicks to, from your advertising campaigns.

Your ads should be relevant to keywords and the search user's intent when they input that search. It is impossible that your homepage is the most relevant possible page to match their intent to your offer.

Search results screenshot showing top three ads for public liability insurance

These top three AdWords ads for "public liability insurance" all do a good job of taking the user to a page specifically about that topic. However, only Hiscox has the full search term in their Display URL, helping guide the user that they are going to see a relevant page. This is a wasted opportunity by Simplybusiness and Tradedirectinsurance.

Possibly your homepage is currently the best catch-all, but you should not approach AdWords with catch-all landing pages, especially not Search.

Simply put, you should be creating landing pages that are as tightly relevant to the search topics you are advertising to, as far as your content creation resources allow.

Mistake 7 - Not Distinguishing Between Different Stages That The Customer Is At

When you start paying for traffic... and in AdWords it will be more than you expected to have to spend... you should have some pretty clear ideas about what actions you want people to take when they arrive at your website.

Generally you want to avoid the default situation that you are paying for people to arrive, read something, [best case] say "that's interesting" and then move on.

You want people to take an action. If this is not an actual transaction then you try to steer people towards something like a registration or contact form, newsletter signup, download, or some measure of interactivity like watching a video or using a tool on your site.

screenshot of ads at the top of a search for travel insurance quote calculator

A search for "travel insurance quote calculator" clearly shows a particular intent and possibly means people searching that are actively in the market to get their insurance online. Advertisers may be willing to pay very expensive costs per click to get these visitors. (Notice however that none of the top three offer a calculator or attempt to match this keyword in their ads. A newcomer could compete by doing so.)

If you know what you want people to do in an ad campaign, you can also think about what stage they need to be, to do that. For example, someone who searches for "cat paw bleeding" is probably ready to give up their email address on your vet website in exchange for your fact sheet about diagnosing what might be causing bleeding cat paws -- and of course helping them decide when to call a vet. However, someone searching "cat health tips" (of which there will be an order of magnitude more searches out there) may not be as motivated right now.

Knowing what stage your customer needs to be at, to take the action you want them to take in your ad campaign, helps you sift and select keywords, and save the cost of trial and error.

In general this is about trying to understand potential customers and match your product/service to their interest/want/need. Probably the no.1 mistake in all marketing is attempting the reverse, i.e. trying to take the product/service you want to sell and pitch it to an audience whose interests/wants/needs are defined [guessed/hoped-for] by you.

Mistake 8 - Not Having Commercial Goals In Mind And Not Tracking Any

In Mistake 7 I mentioned the importance of knowing what you want customers to do. This may include various ways of learning about your product/service/brand as well as "micro-conversions" like a newsletter signup.

But ultimately your point in advertising is going to be a commercial one, i.e. gaining customers, winning sales. In many cases the acquisition of a customer and winning a sale will be a multi-step process and take place far away from (and possibly a while after) the original website interactions. You need to develop ways to trace those successes back to what you are doing online.

A hand extends a business card

If a potential customer entered our system because we met them at a trade fair, we generally remember that. But for online sources of leads businesses frequently have no track of which activities helped connect them with a customer.

If you don't keep track then you may get good at paying for attention in your ad campaigns, but not optimized at getting the right kind of audience at the right time to take the right actions.

The more indirect or offline your sales, the more difficult it will be to attribute where the customer came from. There are lots of things to do to help connect your attribution: the right place to start is to ask these questions to your marketing and sales team. Nobody should be allowed to accept an "attribution air gap" where you have marketing optimizing campaigns on one side and sales taking credit for customer conversions on the other side, without measuring where the people arrived from.


Mistake 9 - Gaining Untracked Conversions From Phone Calls

The most common reason for SMEs to have an "attribution air gap" between marketing campaigns and lead acquisition is the prioritization of sales phone numbers. If your website is all about steering people towards "call now" then those people go beyond the normal reach of website analytics at that point.

Screenshot of AdWords interface selecting phone calls conversion tracking option

AdWords offers its own phone call tracking as well as the ability to set it up as a conversion goal. This is a great place to start if getting calls is the main intention of your ad campaign. Image via the AdWords help article on "track calls from ads"

Before going into various cool software solutions for keeping track of people through phone calls and other sales / customer service touchpoints, the simplest way to reduce this problem is to create various different phone numbers tied to different campaigns.

Simply having more phone numbers may sound low-tech, but it's not as low-tech as paying for the awesomeness of the AdWords system and then completely losing track of people the moment they signal they are potential customers.


Mistake 10 - Optimizing PPC For CTR And CPC When You Need To Think In Terms Of CPA

The first mistake here would be diving into AdWords without knowing what those initialisms stand for.

The second mistake would be putting up with people who spout this kind of jargon constantly!

Translated, the mistake is:

Optimizing pay-per-click for click-through rate and cost-per-click when you need to think in terms of cost per acquisition.

This is one point on which the official AdWords line, all marketers -- and probably you too -- can agree. Your advertising should be worth what you are spending on it.

Screenshot of the text describing five different types of attribution modelling in Google AdWords

AdWords and Analytics provide a lot of depth in how you can credit different campaigns with helping eventual conversions. This is because users are likely to visit your site several times before and during their conversion path.
This text is from the AdWords help page about Attribution reports:

Even if you are not awesomely accurate in attributing customer acquisition to particular parts of your ad campaigns, at least on a general level  you need to be able to assess whether AdWords is bringing you customers. Usually yes and that is not the main issue. The main issue is on average how much those customers are costing you to acquire through AdWords. Only on that basis you can judge whether AdWords is working for you, and if not, whether to develop your strategy or stop and try other things.

Until you have some measure of cost per acquisition then any decision to start /stop / resume / give up / double / cut back on AdWords is just based on intuition. This is valuable but it may cause you to overlook marketing improvement ideas based on actual numbers, which tend to be easier to work on and get debated less!

Getting Help

As a pay-per-click specialist agency obviously this is the point at which we tell you to get professional help from us with your AdWords.

Short of that there are lots of things you can do to get help, if you feel you are not ready for paid AdWords expertise:

  • Self help. Reading a book about AdWords will level you up to being a person who has read a book about AdWords: probably in the global top 0.1% of marketers.
  • Google it. There are good free articles out there about everything you will encounter in AdWords. Don't search for general things like "top 10 mistakes in AdWords" [wait a minute --Ed.] -- instead search for specifics of what you are trying to work on, such as "how to improve ad clickthrough rate in AdWords" and "how to track phone call conversions from PPC".
  • Group help. Involve your team, brainstorm, connect the questions of AdWords to your overall marketing strategy. Even the most theoretical and general discussions
  • Talk to customers. Second best, talk to sales people. The more you understand about your actual customers' actual wants / needs / expectations, the better you will be at all marketing, AdWords included.
  • Get small scale expert help. Seek out local experts for short consultancy, or for micro consultancy try where you can find world-class experts and get advice from them over the phone, billed per minute.
  • Experiment. The worst thing you can do in AdWords is get completely fed up and give up. Even with small budgets you can always experiment. With an experimental mindset you pose a question or hypothesis first, and then design your test campaign around giving you some answers. Even if you feel you don't know all the settings and tactics of AdWords, keeping up a little at a time and seeing what you can find out, will being you useful market intelligence.

Thanks for reading!

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