19 Extreme PPC Blunders

Max Trotter, SMB Client Partner
19 Extreme PPC Blunders and Mistakes

Today, for a change of pace we’ll look at how to build the most wasteful, ineffective PPC account possible. The blunders listed here range from ignoring easy wins that could have maximized your ad’s visibility, to lazily throwing ads at every passerby rather than being deliberate and crisp with this incredibly powerful targeting available to digital marketers.

My hope after you read this is that you’ll think twice before taking a shortcut that might seem harmless but can lead to major missed opportunities or mediocre results.

Warning: some sarcasm follows.

Blunder #1 – Using Broad Match Keywords for Everything

To get things off on the wrong foot, let’s start off easy. Ignoring all precise keyword and phrase match targeting options and dumping all your keywords into broad match.

Example: You run a business that sells vintage surf-wear in Honolulu, but you decide to put the keyword “clothes” into broad match.

This might seem extreme, but can you think of a keyword or two in your own PPC account that might benefit from a little more specificity? That one place where you let yourself off the hook saying: “Hey, it’s not perfect, but some of the people who search for this term probably want what we sell.”

Tightening up your keyword lists to be mostly phrase- and exact-match can yield far better results for a much more affordable price.

Blunder #2 – Refusing to Switch to Expanded Text Ads

Have you seen all those pesky notification from Google telling you to upgrade to Expanded Text Ads? Begging you to give prospective customers a little more insight into what you sell and why it would be worth their time to check out. There’s a reason for that.

Google and Bing are constantly trying to create value for searchers and advertisers. They want you to put the right product and message in front of the perfect customer. Sure, it takes some time and elbow grease to update old copy to take advantage of Expanded Text Ads and other changes, but it’s entirely worth it to communicate the value of your offer even more clearly.

Blunder #3 – Not Using Device Bid Modifiers ™

Is the data telling you that your ads convert twice as well on desktop compared to mobile? Even though that seems like extremely valuable information, practitioners new to PPC or those simply stretched too thin often don’t consider adjusting their ads based on device.

Behavior differences between desktop and mobile are real. There’s an entire section of your paid search analytics and any decent web analytics platform entirely dedicated to telling you about these differences.

There’s no reason and no real excuse not to peek at mobile vs. desktop performance and make intelligent choices about paying for more of the ads that work well.

Blunder #4 – No Negative Keywords

Just because you know your product won’t be interesting to people looking for something entirely different, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t waste money advertising it to them.

Wait, that’s exactly what that means.

Negative keywords are one of the most powerful tools in your belt as a search marketer. As with all things worth doing, it can take a little time to add these (the right way) to every campaign and ad group. But even a little effort spent on throwing out irrelevant searches and clicks can have major positive impact to your ROI.

Blunder #5 – Ad Scheduling? Sounds like a lot of work.

Running a sale for the next few days? Trying to get customers into the shop during certain hours? Closing your service business up at night?! Regardless of the reason your offer might change over the day, the week, or the year; scheduling your ads to appear at the most relevant times is extremely important.

Ad scheduling can’t control when and what people search, but it sure is helpful for putting up a relevant message at the moments your best customers are likely to be looking for you.

Blunder #6 – Ignoring Search Partner Network Results

Want to make sure you’re wasting some extra cash? Pay no attention to how ads are doing on Google’s Search Partner Network. What’s that? You say you’ve had zero conversions in the past three years? I’d probably just ignore that. If Google adds all of its partner network to your targeting by default, it must be good.

Seriously though, Google is running a business. They have products (ad placements) of differing quality. Some are good for all, and others need to be taken with some extra scrutiny, or not at all.

It’s incumbent on you as the marketer to evaluate where your ads are running and whether they’re running profitably for your business.

Blunder #7 – Opting for CPM Bidding Models. Because who needs performance?

(Turns sarcasm to 11.) Clicks are overrated. And for that matter, so is return on ad spend (RoAS).

In fairness, and in theory, CPM bidding can work but it relies on the assumption that higher impressions always equate to proportionally higher sales, or that your offer is so high-converting that you save money by foregoing any performance (click) guarantees. We know that’s not always true, so it’s generally a very risky strategy. This is especially true if you don’t have time or expertise to closely monitor and manage your campaigns.

One of the best things about search marketing is that you can choose to pay entirely for promising user behavior (clicks). There are very few reasons to let go of this and revert to an advertising model where you’re just paying for ad impressions.

I’m guessing you might have a budget to work within as well. All the more reason to focus every search marketing dollar on those users that look promising today.

Blunder #8 – Not Using Display Impression Caps

Want to annoy the heck out of a prospective customer? A great way to do this is to skip setting impression caps for your display ads. You’ll want those display ads to follow users around the internet, with no escape. Try as they might, they’ll never see your display ads less than 40x per day.

More seriously, the goal of advertising is to give consumers just a little positive nudge in the right direction before, during, and after they make a purchase. You never want to beat them over the head with advertising. Impression caps allow you to effectively and discretely provide that nudge, rather than seeming rude and possibly creepy by showing the same ad 100 times per day.

Blunder #9 – Targeting ALL COUNTRIES

Targeting just the countries you serve sounds like common sense, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook when setting up your account, especially if you’re not experienced in AdWords. Make sure your location targeting is accurate so you don’t end up wasting your money serving ads in countries on the other side of the planet if your business is elsewhere.

Blunder #10 – Changing Bid Strategy Without Testing Results

Are you currently using Manual CPC but have a hunch that a CPA bid strategy would perform better? Or getting set to target an entirely new theme and set of keywords? Great, go for it, but only if you’ve benchmarked how you’re doing today, and tested performance of the new approach before committing a giant spend.

Completely switching your account’s bid strategy only to find out that you made performance worse for days, weeks, or even months can put a serious damper on morale and budgets. Minimize risk by testing your new strategy on one campaign. If it performs well, then you can roll it out to the rest of the account. But do test, do benchmark, and do iterate deliberately.

Blunder #11 – Not Using RLSA

Say a customer was searching for running shoes. The customer searched “running shoes,” clicked on your ad, didn’t make a purchase, and left your site. Those customers were so close to converting, if only there was a way to give them the final nudge they need. Luckily for us, there is.

Using remarketing lists allows us to target ads to people who exhibit a specific behavior on our site. The target behavior can be just about anything, whether it be spending 100 seconds on the site or abandoning their cart. RLSA is a massively helpful tool for all marketers, so it’s important to utilize it thoughtfully and consistently.

Blunder #12 – Using One Campaign Budget for Your Whole Account

Why waste your time creating different campaigns for all your products? Just create one giant campaign and cram everything in there. That way, you don’t have to waste all that time clicking into the different campaigns.

This is another basic but extreme mistake that can really ruin your account’s performance. Campaigns as a subset of Accounts are there for a reason. It allows us to separate our account into related groups so we can be as specific as possible with our advertising in both the creative and the bid optimization. It benefits both the marketer and the consumer if you split up your account into multiple campaign, so please, please do this.

Blunder #13 – Targeting Mobile Traffic to Non-Mobile-Friendly Sites

Every year we hear that mobile search is getting bigger and bigger. Matter of fact, Google announced last week that it’s finally rolling out it’s mobile-first index in a very real way. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to take that seriously and make your website mobile-friendly.

If your website isn’t mobile-friendly yet, do not target mobile traffic. It’s that simple, but that’s a massive audience to miss. If a site’s mobile experience is terrible, mobile users won’t convert, so you’re better of sticking to desktop users until you get your mobile experience fixed (and you should).

Blunder #14 – Search And Display In The Same Campaign

Display and search ads are incredibly different and should be treated as such.

For simple illustration, think about a user’s intent to engage when they proactively search for something on Google, vs. visiting a site to read an article where the right rail has a display ad for something they looked at last week.

It’s not a painstaking process to separate display and search into different campaigns, so take the time clean up your account a bit. You’ll thank me later.

Blunder #15 – Addressing Multiple Keyword Themes in One Ad Group

Using multiple keyword themes in a single ad group isn’t as damaging as some of the others on this list, but it can create confusion or distraction for consumers.

Let’s use a clothing store as an example: You put all of your clothing related keywords in the same ad group. Now, say the ad’s headline says something like “Clothes for Sale” or just “Clothes” (overly generic to make a point). Now, when people search for a more specific “red hat” or “blue shoes”, the generic clothes ad will show up for them. The ad’s not technically wrong, but it would benefit from being a lot more specific. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to show an ad for “red hat” to “blue shoe” searchers, but that’s exactly what can happen if you lump too many topics into a single ad group.

Sorting out your keywords into clear themes and matching those to ad groups allows you to be specific and highly relevant in your ads’ creative and messaging. It just makes the consumer experience that much better.

Blunder #16 – No Analytics

Proof positive that this list is not rank-ordered.

“Marketers got by for years without Google Analytics, so why should you use it? Right??”

This argument reminds me of the person who still insists on using a paper map on road trips when we have incredible GPS systems in our phones. Yes, people did get by before Google Analytics. No, that’s not an excuse to not use it.

Google Analytics is an incredible tool that allows us to make highly educated decisions around basically everything we do as digital marketers. And, it’s free. Learn to use it, and your whole job gets easier, not to mention your results.

Blunder #17 – Always Going For The #1 Spot

As the famous race car driver Ricky Bobby once said: “If you ain’t first, you’re last”. In the world of PPC, that couldn’t be more wrong. Being at the top of search results feels great, but there are many instances where it’s far more beneficial to be in the second or third spot.

For example: You sell T-shirts that go for $20 apiece. Now let’s say ads cost $1 per click to be in the #2 position for a given search term, but would cost $10 to be in the #1 position. $10 per click to sell a $20 T-shirt is likely far too expensive unless your site conversion rate is 60% (in which case, we should all be reading your blog). In this instance, we’d much rather stick with the second spot.

Blunder #18 – No Ad Extensions

Just like a few others on this list, Ad Extensions exist for a very good reason. They’re proven to increase CTR by connecting prospective customers with the right information quickly, which means it’s also a better experience for the consumer. Ad extensions are also incredibly easy to set up and manage, so consider this an easy win.

Blunder #19 – Have Your Ads Link to Irrelevant Pages

This might be my personal favorite. Clicking on an ad only to end up on a completely irrelevant page is guaranteed to leave your prospective customer disoriented and confused. The lesser sin here is sending them to a page that’s completely generic. Luckily, this is an easy fix. If your ad is promoting a specific product or category, send me to the product or category page! If I end up anywhere less specific and relevant than this, something’s wrong.

The Lesson Among the Mistakes

We had a lot of fun trying to think of ways to bungle PPC account setup and management. Some of these mistakes are more ridiculous than others, but the bottom line is that you need to take the time to consider your audience and your message. Use the tools at your disposal to make your account as efficient as possible. Otherwise, you may be losing customers before they even get to your site. And if you’ve got other favorite mistakes, we’d love to hear them in the comments.

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  1. PPC is something you have to monitor a lot and keep a close tab on your quality score as well traffic and then conversion, I rely on Gostats for analytics as I have seen number fluctuate with other tools. Your thoughts?

    1. Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my post! I have no experience with GoStats, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness, but we use Google Analytics for all of our data tracking. It’s extremely easy to link to AdWords, and works incredibly well in my experience.
      Hope this helps, thanks again for reading!

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