Four Google Adwords mistakes that are making you look stupid

Don't worry, you're not alone - many brands, probably with far bigger budgets than yours, are making these blunders. Here's how to fix them.

Adwords is a powerful tool that puts your ad in front of pre-qualified leads for free (you only pay per click) but too many businesses fail to make the most of its potential. Don't be one of them.

anna gervai adwords mistakes

CPC, PPC, paid search or Google Adwords: whatever you call it, it’s one of my all-time favourite ways to get sales and leads for a mere fraction of the cost of almost every other marketing and advertising channel that exists.

But that's no excuse to burn your hard-earned dollars, or pay more than your competitors are.

In fact, if you fix these four mistakes, you’ll probably spend far less to get the same or more visitors than they do. Nice.

Not using the search term in your Adwords copy

If you’re guilty of this one you can at least console yourself with the fact that many brands, probably with far bigger budgets than yours, are making the exact same mistake.

When it comes to Google search, one of the things that keeps you and me going back time and again is that it (usually) provides the most relevant search results for the search term, compared with other search engines. In other words, we find what we were looking for. Google knows this of course, so it also rewards advertisers for providing relevant ads.

All things equal, if your ad does not include the search term or keyword in your copy, but your competitor’s ad does, your quality score goes down and it’s you that gets punished. If your ad is the most relevant your click through rate is likely to go up. If your ads have a low quality score, possible penalities might include being charged more per click – sometimes more than what your competitor whose ad is above you is paying! – or having your ad bumped down the page or worst, not displayed at all.

Here's a real-life example of a (presumably) big-budget company making this mistake:

Which ads stand out to you? (click the image to enlarge, then click the back button to keep reading)

engagement ring adwords example

If your eye was drawn to the ads that Google has automatically highlighted in bold, that’s for good reason. It thinks those ads with ‘engagement ring’ in their ad copy are the most relevant to your search term, because the search term is actually used in the ad copy (doh).

Did you spot the well-known brand that got this wrong?

Yep, Michael Hill Jewellers.

Right there in one of the most expensive positions (the second ad on the left), and for a search term I’m sure Michael Hill not only wants to be number one for, but also happens to purport to be a specialist in. The best it can do? The word ‘ring’. Used once. Face palm.

Where should the search term appear in your ad copy?

I recommend you always use the search term in your ad title as a bare minimum. Check out that visual above and you’ll see it’s the biggest text on the page too, so when it’s bold it really stands out.

Repeat the search term in your display URL as well (we cover how to fix your URL in mistake #3). Also use it in one of your lines of body text if you can. Keep the copy sounding natural at the same time though. This is actually quite tricky with the strict character count for each line.

Remember that not everyone searches for the same thing. You (or your agency) should know which variation of the search term gets the most volume of search, so you can write your ad for that search term first and direct the other very similar search terms to that ad.

You can also use high volume variations of that same search term in your body copy, so it doesn’t feel like a robot wrote your ad.

That brings us to mistake number 2:

Sending visitors to the wrong page on your site

Okay, so you’ve fixed that first problem. Your ad copy is a piece of copywriting relevancy genius. But now what?

Let’s say I wanted to find a house in the desirable suburb of Ponsonby in Auckland.

Here’s what I got: (click to view larger)

worst adwords mistakes examples

Although Bayleys uses ‘houses for sale’ and Barfoot uses ‘Ponsonby’ in their ads, both fail to use the full search term. But I’ll forgive them for that as there’s a much bigger problem brewing.

Not quite of Michael Hill proportions, but close…

Barfoot – You took me to your about page. What’s possibly worse (though it did make me smile, so thanks for that), is underneath your six paragraphs of copy all about you, is a list of houses… that have sold.

At least the about page was for your Ponsonby branch and the sold houses were in Ponsonby, but that’s if I’m being kind.

This ‘strategy’ may work if I was a seller looking to list my house, and looking for an agency in Ponsonby, as then proof of other sales in my suburb builds trust; but what exactly about my ‘houses for sale in Ponsonby’ search term says I’m looking to sell, rather than buy?

Bayleys – You also failed to meet my needs. Your ad linked to your ‘houses for sale’ page. Sounds like a good start, right? Sure, if I was looking for a house in Cambridge, Tauranga or Hastings (those were the cities and towns of the first three houses for sale listed on the page).

In fact only one house, way down the page, was even in the same city I was looking in (Auckland).

Both have obviously spent a fair bit of money on a website that can custom search across multiple categories, showing the buyer only houses that perfectly match their requirements. Both have a search option to only show houses for sale in Ponsonby.That is where you should have taken me when I clicked your ad.

I can guarantee if I rung or emailed you and asked for a listing of houses for sale in Ponsonby, that you would not send me (1) information about houses that are not for sale in Ponsonby or (2) listings for houses in other cities. Sure, you could argue I can just use your search box and spend extra time ticking options till I only see houses for sale in Ponsonby, since you’ve now got me on your site after all. And yes, I could just phone or email you a second time to get the information I asked for in the first place – but why would you want to make a potential buyer jump through hoops like that?

Remember that quality score we talked about at the start? Your quality score also goes down when your landing page sucks. Whether your landing page matches the search term is another factor Google measures.

Caveat: I haven’t worked for any of the companies I mention nor intended to target them; they just happened to be the best examples of advertisers making these mistakes when I carried out a search using my chosen search terms. I also don’t know if they do their own Adwords or if an agency does it for them.

Wasting your display URL

See that green text in the ads? That’s your display URL:

elements of a google adwords paid search ad

It’s a made-up combination of your domain name (which has to match your real domain name that your ad takes visitors to) and a fake URL string.

For example:

difference url versus domain name

That area in green is the domain name. The part in red is the URL string (ie: the address of an individual page on a website). The whole thing is called a URL, so the domain name is part of the URL.

Now go check out those ads above again, and you’ll notice the URL string is really short. In the case of Stuff’s URL, they might choose to make their display URL something like: stuff.co.nz/most-expensive-suburbs.

TIP: The display URL in your ad does not have to include the ‘www’ bit at the start, so if you have a long domain name, just drop the ‘www.’ part and you’ve gained four more characters to fit more keywords in, increasing both relevancy and your quality score. Never make your display URL your domain name only. Always include the search term.

What happens when there’s no page on your site that exactly matches the search term?

The good news is you can land your ads on any page on your website. So even if your most relevant page is your home page, you can make up the rest of the display URL to match your keyword. Remember: In your display URL, only the domain name has to be real.

That brings us to the next big mistake:

Not having a page on your site that matches the search term

If you’re paying to attract visitors for a certain product or service, but your website doesn’t have a page about that product or service, you need to pause that ad right now and sort out your website as a priority.

Either that or you need to rethink your search terms!

Excuses, excuses

I sell a different product, but it relates to the search term

Let’s say you sell shoes. Casual sneakers and sports shoes to be exact.

A popular brand of sports shoes is Nike. You’ve noticed heaps of people search Google for ‘Nike shoes’. You don’t actually stock Nike, but you do sell Reebok, so why not have your ad come up for ‘Nike shoes’, maybe you’ll change their mind and get them to buy a pair of Reeboks instead?

Really?! Let’s make this easy. Don’t waste your money. Don’t piss off your potential customers either.

If I rang your store and asked if you stock Nike shoes, would you lie to me? Well I hope not, because I’m going to be one annoyed customer when I make the trip to your store only to find you don’t sell the brand I was specifically looking for.

Sadly this reasoning is really common, and really frustrating, with paid search advertisers.

Not only that, but since your quality score’s going to be low, because your ad's landing page does not relate to the search term, you’re not just wasting your money, you’re actually paying extra to get a customer who is extremely unlikely to buy from you anyway.

I do have a matching product or service, I just don’t have a page about it on my site

Hopefully this is an obvious one. If you don’t have a page focused on each of your main products and services, you are harming far more than your quality score.

You know all those search results underneath and to the left of those ads? Those are called organic search results.

Around 98 percent of people click one of those, in fact over 50 percent are estimated to click the top organic search result alone. An average of just 2 percent click an ad (so if any of your click through rates are below 2 percent, you have some optimising to do). Of course that 2 percent is better than no traffic if your website does not rank on page one at all.

Without a page on your site for each of your core products and services, you’re essentially ‘blocking’ Google from listing your website in organic search results when someone is searching for what you sell.

You could be missing out on far more traffic that Google Adwords could ever get you. Plus all that organic traffic is absolutely free. You do want visitors to your site to know you actually offer what they’re looking for, don’t you?

In both cases, I suggest pausing those ads immediately and either picking better search terms, or fixing your website, or both!

Anna Gervai is the marketing manager at Shore City, previously the social media manager at JWT. This post originally appeared on her blog LikeThis.co.nz. Follow her on Twitter @annagervai

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