Over the past few months I’ve audited a number of (non-Adido managed) PPC accounts which have all shared some fundamental mistakes in their setup and management. These advertisers have been investing thousands in clicks from the likes of Google Adwords and either managing the accounts themselves, or turning to a supposed expert to manage it for them.

Now I don’t profess to highlight lots of new mistakes in this article (Adwords has been around for 16 years, so there have been plenty of self-help articles written about it) but what I do hope is that in publishing this article now, and time stamping it as November 2016, I can keep attention focused on this on-going issue. It’s probably not a topic you regularly ‘Google’ but it’s nice to have a little refresher every now and again if someone puts the information in front of you, so that’s what I’m doing, enjoy!

Whether you’re running your own account, managing an agency who works on your behalf or are an agency PPC practitioner yourself, spend just 10 minutes double checking you’re not falling foul of these mistakes.

1. Structure

Campaign contains only one ad group

Definitely the lazy man’s approach to PPC, sorry but it has to be said! Lumping all your targeted keywords into a single ad group, despite including a variety of search queries, is not the answer to Adwords success. But it gets a top mention here as I've seen it done soooooo many times.

I don’t think in my 10 years of PPC management have I ever seen an advertiser who could get away with just one ad group. There are always opportunities to divide and conquer small clusters of terms to allow ad text relevancy, landing page alignment and device bidding.

Fix it: Take a look at your keyword list and re-organise into tightly themed clusters. Ideally the more focused on a search theme you can be, the better.

Try and avoid creating ad groups containing only one keyword (unless you want to go crazy), but don’t shy away from creating lots of ad groups if you can genuinely see that amending the ad text and/or landing page to suit the theme will be beneficial.

This is what can happen when the themes aren’t tightly controlled…

Search query: “family holiday Seychelles

Ad looks something like…

Holidays Seychelles

Seychelles – perfect promise of pleasure. Intimacy is guaranteed.

Click destination: ‘private island’ landing page

Someone looking for a family holiday is probably less interested in an intimate experience. They would probably also want to see on-page content related to how the company can fulfil their family holiday needs rather than the proposed private island content.

All match types included in the same ad group

PPC pros might debate this one as there isn’t a hard and fast rule on what to do here, however in the interest of taking control of how Adwords spends your money, we opt for splitting out exact match terms from broad/phrase variations wherever possible.

Ideally we advocate splitting campaigns out by match types (so not just ad groups) so that budget allocation can be assigned by objective. Exact match terms provide the most control, and are usually the bread and butter conversion terms (which you want to give free rein on budget to), whereas broad/phrase matches are more discovery orientated and thus you need to be more ruthless with negatives and budgets.

Splitting at ad group and/or campaign level also allows negatives to be applied more easily. There is less risk of applying a negative into the account which will prevent a positive term from showing, and inefficient terms are easier to spot when running search query reports if they’re separated.

Fix it: Split match types at ad group and/or campaign level

Adwords account evolved over time with no clear strategy

It’s fair to say that we all suffer from this from time to time, especially when setting live an account which is in testing mode, but when you start to expand your efforts it’s important to think about the bigger picture – for example, do you have a PPC roadmap for expansion?

Promotional activity is usually the biggest catalyst for duplicating keywords in an account, which can create management confusion, duplication of effort, and can waste valuable keyword history (which can affect CPC prices). This usually happens when you focus on creating new campaigns every time you have a promotion and need to target the same terms each time – rather than adjusting the ad copy and landing pages for the original keyword.

We have seen the same keyword appear in multiple ad groups, sometimes they are live at the same time, and have different bids and different ad text. When this happens how do you decide what action to take? How does Adwords decide which keyword to show? Keeping duplication to a minimum will give you greater control and reduce the possibilities.

Fix it: Think about your plans for PPC – how could you grow it? Devise a roadmap to identify where overlaps could occur, or how duplication could be managed more effectively.

Campaign daily budgets smaller than max keyword bids

Budgets are controlled at the campaign level, so the more campaigns you have, the thinner you have to spread your overall account budget. In most cases this is usually not a problem, but watch out for when your daily budget per campaign is lower than your max CPC bid.

It’s a simple thing to check, but if you have a single term in a campaign and its bid is higher than the permitted daily budget, it will never show, and you’ll never spend any money. Likewise, if you have lots of keywords within a campaign and their bids are close to the max daily budget, you will find that only a handful of them will ever be activated. It’s a pointless exercise going really granular if you cannot afford the potential click costs.

2. Keywords

No negatives

You are foolish if you have broad/phrase match terms in your account and no negatives! But we do see this happen, so it deserves a place on this list of mistakes.

Usually it’s a case of too few negatives rather than none at all, but regularly mining the search query reports to highlight irrelevant phrases is paramount.

Fix it: Regularly look at search query reports and apply negative terms frequently. The frequency of running this task will depend on 1) your choice of keywords (e.g. the more generic they are, the more irrelevant variations are matched) and 2) the volume of data you have to assess (if not much has changed on a weekly basis you might want to extend the look back period to monthly).

3. Ad text

Ad text not captivating enough

All too often time is invested creating highly defined keyword groups, and when it comes to ad copy, the same attention to detail is disregarded. When crafting your copy you have to put yourself in the searcher’s shoes, and whilst you want to promote your products/services your way, it’s imperative that you take notice of what others are saying around you (e.g. look at competitors’ ads!).

All too often ad text looks the same as everyone else’s. Position is the only reason why an ad may be clicked on more than another.

Fix it: Search for your preferred terms and compare your ad copy to the competition. Does it really stand-out from the crowd? If not, think about your audience and write for them. Use emotional triggers if you can.

You also need to appreciate where someone is in their decision making process, and thus deliver the right sort of message for this moment.

Recently I saw a travel advertiser selling the benefits of the destination rather than their business offering in their PPC ads. This seemed wasteful as these people were already looking for the destination in question! At this point it’s clear they like the location (so don’t have to be sold on its merits), what they’re looking for is the right company to book the holiday with so that’s where the advertiser should have focused its copy (USPs, reassurances, expertise etc…).

Fix it: Check you’re promoting the right things at the right time. What do people need to be convinced/persuaded by? Avoid repeating what they already know in order to be seen as relevant to the search query.

Missing out on ad extensions

Last month Google released a new ad extension feature (message extensions), but we’re finding that many advertisers are yet to make the most of the ones that have been around for ages! Come on, it’s been 3 years since Adwords announced that the ad rank calculation includes ad extension performance. It’s an easy win to improve your account quality, and it offers additional real estate for your brand in the search results.

In some cases, advertisers are not necessarily missing out, but they are using them unwisely and in many cases irrelevant options are displayed against search results.

e.g. if I’m looking for ‘personalised keyrings’ why would I be interested (at that exact search moment) for books, photo mugs and canvases? Sorry Truprint, but I’m more likely to click on these extensions if they offered me additional choices related to my exact need (e.g. keyring versions). Overall, their ad text is also too focused on photo storage…only the headline is relevant. A great example of a big brand doing poorly in Adwords, and it didn't take me long to find one!

Ad extensions can be applied at the account, campaign and ad group level so it’s important to plan out when ad extensions need to be more tailored, so you make the most of them and avoid duplicating effort.

Not testing ads

How often do you put your ad text through its paces? On the whole we see accounts which have 2-5 variations of ad text per ad group, but not very often do I see action being taken to remove versions that are under-performing, or new additions being added over time.

Once again, this methodology gives too much control to Adwords (e.g. it’s optimises the account for you) and it can prevent your activity from reaching new heights in CTR. It’s lazy management again and can lead to settling for performance rather than pushing for optimum performance.

Poor landing page experiences

With ad text comes the choice of landing page. How well have you selected the landing page for your search query, for your ad text? Does the user journey follow seamlessly from the search query (searcher’s need), to the ad text (your pitch to fulfil their need) through to the landing page (fulfilment of their need). If at any point the message doesn’t add up, it’s not aligned or its missing then you’ll likely leave the customer confused, dissatisfied or frustrated.

Fix it: Usually landing pages are selected from pre-existing pages on the site, but be conscientious here, and if a page doesn’t fit the search query / your ad text message, then look to create a bespoke version which will.

4. Settings

Double check the following:

  • You’re targeting the right locations in the appropriate labelled campaigns

Recently I saw a campaign labelled Switzerland targeting Finland and Norway as well – need I say more?

  • You have separate campaigns for search and display activity

Never target Google search and display networks with the same campaign – they are too very different online environments and are optimised very differently.

  • You’re bidding appropriately for mobile traffic

If your site isn’t mobile responsive check whether you should be buying mobile traffic (as it’s unlikely to convert cost effectively) but if you do, trial different mobile bid adjustments as generally mobile traffic is still cheaper than desktop.

  • Your campaigns are opted into Search Network – All Features

I was baffled the other day when I couldn’t see location information in the settings tab. I was subsequently pointed in the right direction by our PPC manager (thanks George!) who explained that this level of data is only available to the ‘All Features’ campaign type. It seems sensible to always apply this campaign type when running a standard search campaign.

5. Tracking

Not tracking conversions

This is the stuff of nightmares for a good PPC person! There should always be a goal to assess performance against. Whether it’s linked to Google Analytics or a bespoke Adwords conversion pixel or a tracked call, there should always be a goal being tracked to help assess quality of clicks, and return on advertising spend.

Adwords, analytics and internal databases don’t match up

This is always a head scratching moment. It’s not always the case that all three sources of information will match up as they record conversions in different ways – you’re essentially comparing apples with oranges. However, you should be comfortable that each data source is tracking accurately – you must test and review thoroughly to be confident that this is the case.

Fix it: Link Adwords to Analytics and vice versa – use the same Analytics tracked conversions in your Adwords reporting. Double check the transaction IDs and revenue in Google Analytics against your internal database.

Lifetime value of customer isn't understood

PPC can be a significant investment for advertisers, and when viewed on a last action or single sale basis it can often be cut from the marketing plan pretty quickly if it’s not showing a comfortable return on spend. Before making this decision though it’s important to appreciate its influence on other channels which do convert, or its contribution to the lifetime value of a customer.

For instance, no ‘direct sale’ is ever truly direct, there will have been a stimulus at some point to trigger the sale (no matter how far back in time you have to go – usually no more than 30 – 90 days though). Once someone has become a customer it’s also important to keep them coming back and whilst alternative channels may be required to do this, don’t forget how they became a customer in the first place!

Fix it: Using tools like Google Analytics, and matching up repeat sales in your database, you should try and get a holistic view of the channel’s influence on sales from other sources and repeat business.

6. Worth the investment?


If you’ve not run a PPC campaign before, or you’re thinking of expanding it, it’s important to assess the search demand and relative costs involved in doing so. Regardless of anyone managing the activity you need to find out if people actually search for what you’re hoping to bid on, and even if they do, do they do it enough to justify the time to manage activity?

There are many search terms which Google doesn’t support with ads, often these are highly specific, long tail queries (so opt for an organic approach) or they are very generic and potentially ambiguous (e.g. car) and thus likely to perform poorly.

There are then the other terms which get a handful of impressions a month/year whereby ‘missing out’ on a presence here versus the cost to setup/manage activity becomes a no-brainer.

Feasibility forecasting

Finally, but by no means least, the beauty of PPC is that data is available to us to help project performance. Using the Google Keyword planner it’s possible to see traffic forecasts and click costs. Working with some logical conversion rates; considering different scenarios (as no-one should ever be highly confident until you put something live and have your own data to model through); and comparing CPCs by ad position, you should be able to get an indication of whether the channel will ever stand a chance of performing effectively for you.

At some point your account will have fallen foul of a few of these mistakes, it’s to be expected. In reading this article though I hope you will give your account a quick check-through or give your agency a nudge to be sure that the essentials are in tip top condition.

Fix it: If you’d like some impartial advice and a fresh pair of eyes on your Adwords activity why not consider our PPC audit. Get in touch to find out more.

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Meet the author ...

Kherrin Wade

Strategy Director

Kherrin works with clients to develop effective marketing strategies, whether that's introducing brands to digital for the first time or pushing the boundaries with more ...