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Top Google Ads Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Mastering Google Ads is a rapidly moving target. There’s more and more Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is supposed to make life easier for advertisers but in fact seems geared towards making Google more money – unless you know the pitfalls.

If you use Google’s default settings, you can be in for a nasty shock when you see your credit card get hammered for a lot more than you expected.

Here are some of the biggest (and most costly) mistakes I see when auditing Google Ads accounts.

1. Too many keywords per Ad group

This is a basic mistake I see time and again. People choose a large list of keywords and throw them all into one Ad Group. Furthermore, these keywords are often ‘broad match’ which means Google will show the Ads for a wide range of search terms, which may or may not be relevant to your business.

Ideally you should use no more than 5 or 6 keywords in each Ad Group. This means you can write Ads that are closely related to the keywords, which means your Ads are going to be much more relevant to the person searching.

Google Ads keyword groupSo you will get better click through rates on the Ads and Google will reward you with a higher quality score.

My personal preference is to use just one keyword per Ad Group – using modified broad match, phrase match and exact match. Here’s an example of what it looks like:

Obviously, it takes more time to create a separate Ad Group for each keyword, but the rewards are worth it in the long run.

2. Too many Ads per Ad Group

Google’s standard advice now is to have three Ads for each Ad Group. If you have fewer than three Ads, you will get a warning that you need to add more. I’ve seen some people using even more than three Ads per group.

Despite what Google says, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to have only two Ads per Ad Group at any one time. This means you can split test one Ad against the other.

I also recommend avoiding Google’s default setting, which allows them to optimize for the best performing Ads. I believe it’s better to rotate your Ads evenly, so you can decide for yourself which one is the “winner” and “loser”.

Once you start running more than two Ads, it is almost certain that you will be showing under-performing Ads for too much of the time.

So you can often get an immediate improvement in performance simply by pausing the worst-performing Ads.

I use three numbers to judge the winning Ads:

  • highest conversion rate
  • lowest cost per conversion
  • highest click through rate

In most cases, I tend to give priority to the lowest cost per conversion.

One thing I should add, is that you really need at least 30 conversions in a Ad Group before you have enough data to declare winning and losing Ads.

I’ve made this mistake in my early days of managing Google Ads, when I would jump to conclusions too quickly about which Ads were performing best.
So make sure you build up at least 30 conversions before you decide to pause a losing Ad.

3. Ads displayed outside the target location

This is a trap that even experienced Google Ads professionals can fall into. I have to admit, it was several years before I realised I was showing Ads to people outside my targeted location.

By default, Google selects the setting “People in, or who show interest in, your targeted locations (recommended)”.

You need to adjust the Advanced Locations setting to show your Ads only to people in your target location. I also like to exclude certain locations, such as India, as an extra safeguard against web marketing companies in those countries clicking on my Ads and sending spam.

To find where you Ads are showing, is more difficult now in the new Google Ads Editor. You need to go to the Reports tab at the top of the page, then ‘Predefined Reports (dimensions) and drill down to User Locations.

user locations

It can be quite an eye opener the first time you discover this! You might be kicking yourself.

4. Improper use of the Search Query tool

The Search Query tool allows you to see what people are typing into Google to find your Ad. You will usually find irrelevant search terms, which you can block using negative keywords.

Many people simply use Google’s default option, which allows you to select the irrelevant search terms and add them as negative keywords, in exact match form. That is almost never what you want.

If you use the default exact match, Google will only block your Ads from being shown if someone searches for that exact term.

A better way is to remove the square brackets and then edit the search term down to one broad match negative keyword. By using a broad match negative keyword, you will screen out all search terms that use that word.

Adding positive keywords

The opposite applies when adding positive keywords from the Search Query report. Google by default will make these broad match. But you don’t want this. Broad match is the costliest match type because Google will show your Ads for queries that have nothing to do with your product or service.

Instead, you want to make them exact match, so your Ad is only shown for that exact keyword. (In fact, Google is no longer showing only the exact query with exact match keywords, but that’s a topic for another day! Exact match is still far better than broad match in almost any circumstance.)

5. Showing display network Ads on mobile apps

Google’s default settings in the Display Network will show your Ads on mobile apps, including a lot of games. This can be a costly trap if you are not aware of it.

If you look at the placement report, you will see where your Ads have appeared. If you see a long list of mobile apps, you need to take action to exclude these wasted clicks.

Go to the campaign Placements > Exclusions > App Categories

how to exclude mobile apps

You will need to select all 141 mobile app categories to exclude all the mobile apps. A bit tedious but it’s the only way currently to do this.

6. Obsessing too much over Quality Score

You might have read about the importance of Quality Score, to help reduce cost per click etc. This is true, to some extent. But many people obsess too much over Quality Score.

I recommend first and foremost, pay attention to the Click Through Rates (CTR) on your Ads. This is at least half of what Google uses to assign quality scores. It comes down mainly to writing compelling Ads, targeted at the right audience, so they will click on the Ads.

Another factor in Quality Score is your landing page quality. But this is a relatively minor factor. As long as your page loads reasonably quickly and contains relevant content, you will be OK.

Some “experts” will recommend you stuff the landing page with relevant keywords, to help improve the quality score, but there’s no real evidence that this is a major factor.

7. Using too many keywords in Display campaigns

It’s quite common for advertisers to build their Display Network campaigns by copying Search campaigns and using the same keywords. This is usually a mistake.

The ideal number of keywords in a display campaign is 4 to 6. This is enough to give Google a clear idea of where to show your Ads – without confusing the algorithm to too many keywords. This can cause you Ads to show too widely and results in irrelevant clicks.

Also be careful with negative keywords in Display campaigns

Another trap is to copy negative keywords from a search campaign to a display campaign. This is a bad idea because of the way Google uses keywords in the Display Network.

Essentially, when you use keywords for Display targeting, Google will show your Ads on pages that contain those keywords. And if you use negative keywords, it will not show your Ads on pages that contain those negative keywords.

This can exclude a lot pages where you might actually want your Ads to show. So it’s generally not necessary to add negative keywords to a display campaign – unless you are really sure about what you are doing, and why.

8. Capitalising callout extensions

This is something I have only recently become aware of. Google’s guidelines for Callout extensions say they should be written in “sentence case” i.e. with only the first word capitalised and the others in lower case. This is the opposite of Ad copy, where it is recommended to capitalise each word.

I’m not sure why this works better. Google says it works better, based on their data – and this is one area where I am willing to trust Google.

9. Tracking too many conversion actions

While it is essential to track conversions, some advertisers make the mistake of tracking too many conversions. They track email signups, free report downloads, web form enquiries, purchases etc. – all in the same campaign.

Some advertisers even track visits to certain pages on their website as “conversions”.

When an agency does this, it might look good because the campaign is getting a lot of conversions. But the problem is, each conversion has a different value to the business owner. For example, an enquiry form submission night be worth a lot more than a free report download or email sign up. But if all three are being tracked as conversions, it can give a distorted idea of how successful the campaign really is.

So it’s best to track only one or two key conversion actions in Google Ads and track the others in Google Analytics.

10. Automatically opting out of Search Partners

It has been standard advice from most Google Ads experts that it’s better to opt out of Google Search Partners network when setting up a new search campaign.

But this is not always the smartest move. You might be missing out on potential business if you blindly follow this advice. In practice, Search Partners click through rates and conversion rates are quite often better than the search network.

It’s generally better to start with Search Partners running, and then check the data after a month or so. You can test this by using Segmentation.

segmentation of search partners

11. Using too limited Display Network targeting options

Most advertisers, when they use the Display Network, tend to stick with targeting by keyword or topic. This can be easy to set up but you run the risk of wasting a lot of clicks on irrelevant websites.

You can rectify this by excluding bad placements, but it can be time-consuming.

Google has introduced some exciting new targeting features in the Display Network. These focus on targeting specific audiences, such as “in-market” “affinity” and “custom affinity” audiences.

This is a more sensible way to target display advertising and it’s the way I am going more and more with Display campaigns.

These new options target people based on their interests, buying habits and other activities online. When you consider how much Google knows about people’s online habits (a scarily large amount) it makes sense to use this information to help target your Ads at the right people.

Custom affinity audiences

The most exciting new targeting option is Custom Affinity Audience. You can create these audiences based on people’s interests and the kind of websites they visit.

To create a custom affinity audience, you need to specify at least 5 keywords and 5 websites that your target audience is likely to visit. You need to think outside the box when choosing the websites. They might not necessarily be directly related to your business.

For example, if I want to target small business owners in New Zealand, with an offer to manage their Google advertising, I need to think about the type of websites my target audience is likely to visit.

One such website could be Xero, an online accounting software provider. A huge number of small businesses now use Xero. So, while Xero has nothing directly to do with Google advertising, it might be a great website to help define my target audience.

Bear in mind, with a custom affinity audience, you are NOT asking Google to place your Ads on these websites. This is important to stress.

You are asking Google to show your Ads (on whatever websites they think best) to people who FREQUENT the type of websites you have selected. See the difference. This is why custom affinity audiences can be so powerful.

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