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Google AdWords Newbie Traps and How to Dodge Them

Google Adwords DSA Global

Let’s get this straight right off the bat; there is no secret trick that is going to give you automatic success with Google AdWords. Not many people have time to digest the AdWords information overload so they scour the net for quick and dirty tips. That’s fine, but it’s a common mistake to think that such one-size-fits-all solutions exists; AdWords is bespoke and no two accounts are the same.

A successful AdWords strategy is about YOU and YOUR business. Something that worked wonders for someone else might be a complete disaster for you. You will fail if you blindly follow guides that are too specific to someone else’s business. Knowledge is power (and power is money) and there are no shortcuts here if you are planning on running a Google ads campaign yourself rather than using an agency advertising service.

Having said that, you’re reading a guide to AdWords now so doesn’t that undermine everything I’ve just written? No, because I’m not giving you specific advice. These are solid tips that are best practice and will work for everyone, whether you’re selling shoes, shares or sharkfin soup.

  1. Don’t use all the default settings unless you enjoy horrible results.

Select a new, better performing campaign type for acquiring customers on Search and Display

– Google Blog on release of Display Select campaigns.

Rule zero of AdWords: Google is a business and they like making money, like you. How do you think they’re going to configure their default settings for new advertisers? To drain their budgets, of course. This option will opt-in your Search Network (standard Google search page) text ads into the Display Network, meaning that they will be displayed on 3rd party sites. The worst part? Google chooses where they go. If you choose this option that you will be opening the dam to a flood of irrelevant traffic.

Pay Per Click Keyword Match

Broad match is also the default setting for all keywords. You are unlikely to need to use Broad match; it requires tremendous amount of negative keywords, it’s costly and it attracts the least relevant traffic. It’s only advantages are volume and ease. Broad Match Modified is nearly always better as a keyword research tool.

Best practice: if you want to advertise on the Search and Display Networks, create different campaigns for each for more precise control and measurement. Use the Broad Match Modified in place of Broad for the most part.

  1. Don’t let stuff go unmeasured. Get the numbers to make decisions and get better numbers.

As with any internet advertising, it’s not just customers you’re paying for; you‘re buying data and you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you’re not using it. Whether you’re lead-gen or ecommerce, you’ll need tracking set up on your forms. Got that? Good, but what about your offline conversions? If you have conversions that take place over the phone then they won’t be picked up on by AdWords automatically; you’ll need to invest in 3rd party call tracking software. What about conversions that take place face-to-face? There’s a free solution to this that allows you to import a spreadsheet of offline conversions into AdWords.

Adwords offline conversion tracking

The objective is to form a complete data set of all your conversions from all your campaigns. You could have a keyword that appears to never generate any conversions when that keyword could be a goldmine.

Best practice: don’t be lazy with your tracking; get everything set up and let no data go unrecorded. Your optimisation strategy is based on your key converters and obstructing that information will stunt or damage your business.

  1. Split test stuff. Like, everything. Seriously. Split test people’s Christmas presents.

An A/B test is easy to set up and frankly it’s lazy and unbusinesslike to not have one split test running at all times. Split testing is the keystone of all online advertising and it will be your religion if you want to make money with Google pay per click.

It’s really easy, actually, all you need to do is have two different ad texts in an ad group and you’ve set up an A/B test. Let the ads run until you’ve got statistically significant data (this is complicated if you want to do the precise math, so do it by gut and just wait until you think you’ve got enough data before you pull the trigger) and pause the loser. CTR (clickthrough rate) is the indicator of a successful ad but occasionally CPA (cost per acquisition) can be a decisive factor, particularly if you are split testing different offers as they tend to prime visitors into buying mode.

Google Adwords AB testing

Best practice: Don’t make your variations too different from each other or you won’t know which line of text to attribute the success to. Change one line in each variation only. Don’t just split test ad text either, do it for landing pages, keyword match types, bid strategies and extensions. Just keep it organised, logical and measureable or you won’t know what’s pulling the weight and what’s dragging it down.

  1. View the Opportunities tab with caution. See point 1.

What was rule zero of AdWords and any other pay per click company again? The Opportunities tab is rife with newbie pitfalls but have a look at it, by all means. Is the offer of boosting a campaign’s keywords in a single click tantalising? Don’t.

Google Adwords opportunity tab

Best practice: Click view instead and you can tick/untick specific keywords and use your brain instead of AdWords’ algorithms to make informed and sensible decisions rather than burning money like Google wants you to.

There you go, if you were about to dive into AdWords for the first time I’ve just saved you from the certain doom that countless others before you have met. It’s ok to be daunted, it is ludicrously complicated and deep and no one knows everything. If you don’t want to go alone, your best bet is to find a SEM agency that offers pay per click consulting and management as a service. Many of them offer free AdWords audits with no obligation to sign up with them.


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Jonny Holmes

When it comes to PPC, SEO and CRO, Jonny's skill and attention to detail make for consistently great insights. His work makes a measurable contribution to the business

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