Seven Common AdWords Mistakes to Avoid

July 24, 2012

As Google’s standard search results page has evolved from displaying ten organic links on the left and eight ads on the right to a more varied page (see example below), featuring more or fewer ads and different media types depending on the nature of the search, the old pattern of organic results receiving 70%-85% of all clicks has also gone by the wayside.

Paid versus Organic Search Results on Google


In fact, recent WordStream research highlighted on eStrategy Trends reveals that, for keyword phrases with “high commercial intent,” almost two-thirds of all clicks are now on paid ads. For these types of queries, on average, 41% of clicks go to the top three (ad) spots while just 9% are captured by the top organic search result.

65% of Clicks on Commercial Searches Go to Paid Search AdsClearly, Google has been successful at shifting more traffic to paid results (which is where Google earns 97% of its revenue). That makes AdWords a critical component for any company seeking to dominate the first page of search results. Yet I often hear from prospective or new clients that they have used Google AdWords in the past and stopped because it “didn’t work” for their business.

Digging a bit deeper, it usually turns out it wasn’t the tactic that was ineffective, but rather the execution of the AdWords or other search engine marketing (SEM) program. SEM can be a productive channel for selling virtually anything more expensive than a candy bar and less costly than a commercial jet. Here then are seven common mistakes to avoid when setting up and optimizing an AdWords campaign. Steering clear of these potholes and using SEM best practices greatly increases the odds of success with AdWords.

1. Using both search and Google’s content network right away. Content network ads perform very differently from search ads and need to be managed separately, with their own budget and unique ad copy. It’s best to use search on its own for a while to determine which keywords, calls to action (CTAs) and ad messages are most effective before expanding advertising to the content network.

2. Not testing. Too often, campaigns are set up with an initial list of keyword phrases, a single static bid for all keywords, a single ad, and a single landing page. Then, if that particular combination of elements doesn’t produce great results, AdWords is deemed a failure. But it’s extremely rare for a campaign to produce optimal results right out of the gate, and therefore critical to test every element of the campaign on an ongoing basis to continually improve results. Of course, sometimes advertisers do test and still fail to meet objectives because of the next mistake to avoid, which is…

3. Not understanding the analytics. Marketers too often get hung up on the wrong objectives, like maximizing click-through rate (CTR) or minimizing the average cost per click (CPC). True, all other things being equal, a higher CTR and lower CPC are good things, as they mean more clicks for fewer dollars, but they should not be the primary focus. The single most important metric in a paid search campaign is cost per lead (CPL) (sometimes alternatively referred to as cost per acquisition or CPA).

A keyword with a low CTR and a $10.00 CPC may be much more valuable than another with a high CTR and $1.00 CPC if the former converts at a significantly higher rate than the latter, thereby producing conversions (generally leads or sales) at a lower CPL.

4. Using the wrong keywords. No matter how extensive the upfront keyword research is, the initial list compiled for an AdWords campaign will very rarely be optimal. And even if the list turns out to be very solid, it is likely to change over time as market and search trends change, so ongoing monitoring and optimization remains imperative. Keywords with a high conversion rate should be bid up into one of the top ad spots. Keywords with a lower, but still respectable, CPA should be bid with a target of making a low ad spot on page one of search results. Keywords with a very low CTR or quality score should be re-examined. And “campaign killer” keywords—those that produce lots of clicks and therefore lots of cost, but few if any conversions—should be identified and deleted as quickly as possible.

5. Writing poor ad ad copy. Even when using best practices for writing search ad copy, it’s impossible to know exactly what combination of words within the scant 95-characters permitted by AdWords will resonate most effectively with your audience. That makes it essential to test multiple ads, and to continue replacing the poorest-performing ads with new variants in order to optimize results over time.

6. Not dayparting. Dayparting is simply the practice of scheduling ads to run during certain hours of the day and not during other hours. It’s surprising how often this is overlooked, and ads are simply set to run 24/7. Running ads at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday may make sense for open-all-night restaurant, but is highly unlikely to produce productive clicks for an enterprise software vendor.

7. Poor CTA or landing page design. If a landing page is attracting clicks from relevant keywords but few of those are converting into sales or leads, the problem could be that either the call to action itself isn’t appealing (for example, a white paper download may be more appealing to prospects than a free trial), or that the landing page design isn’t effective (e.g., too much or too little copy, too many form fields, or unnecessarily complex layout). There’s no way to know which is the culprit without testing multiple CTAs and tweaking landing page design to optimize conversions.

Google AdWords and other SEM programs may not be ideal for every company. But with search results page display changes being made by Google and other search engines to emphasize paid results over organic, at least for “commercial” searches, it’s important for any business that relies on online lead generation or sales to evaluate.

Only by avoiding common AdWords mistakes, following established best practices and testing, testing, testing can businesses be sure whether shortcomings in AdWords results are a problem with the medium itself—or with the execution of those programs.

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5 Responses

  1. Any tips specific for approaching the B2B market with adwords? That’s the hardest part in a B2C network.

  2. Tom 

    Hi Dries. Sure – start at the end, with the lead generation asset (e.g., a white paper or webinar) you want the prospect to sign up for. Work backward from that to generate the offer text, landing page, keyword list and ad copy. Implement, then test, test, test.

  3. Very nice article. As an Adwords professional, I clearly explain what tactics I will use on my clients’ sites. And while this may lead to the thought that they could be doing it themselves, the truth is they don’t have the time or the inclination.

  4. Tom 

    Thanks! Agreed. It’s a matter of comparative advantage; business owners could do this themselves (along with managing payroll and benefits and emptying the garbage cans and…), but it makes more sense to hire a specialist.

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