Major AdWords Mistakes and How to Prevent Them – #Pubcon Liveblog

Our own David Szetela takes the stage along with Mona Elesseily to share insights on mistakes that search engine advertisers commonly make. This Pubcon Las Vegas session targeting the paid search crowd is titled “The Top Major AdWords Mistakes and How to Prevent Them.” Take in these veteran PPC pros’ advice and you may avoid the PPC mistakes that even the most savvy search marketers sometimes make!

David Szetela at Pubcon11 Top Major AdWords Mistakes – David Szetela

Bruce Clay, Inc.’s vice president of search marketing operations, David Szetela (@Szetela), has narrowed down the top 11 mistakes he sees being made too often on AdWords.

1. Don’t Trust the Search Query Tool

The search query tool is a great tool, but don’t trust it blindly. The tool frequently adds negative keywords at the campaign level, but it’s better to use a broad match, single-word variation of the exact match keyword the tool automatically chooses.

PPC search query tool slide
David Szetela demonstrates negative search term research (click to enlarge)

It’s almost always better to add Exact or Modified Broad match versions of the selected keyword.


  1. Pull account into AdWords Editor.
  2. Get Recent Changes.
  3. Back in the AdWords web user interface, add keywords as Broad.
  4. Back in AdWords editor, get recent changes again. The added keywords will appear highlighted green. Change the match type to Exact.

2. Google Display Network (GDN) Negative

Often seen when search ad groups are simply copied into Display campaigns. This is truly a rookie mistake.

Negative keywords tell AdWords, “Don’t show my ad on any pages that contain any of these words.” This causes very limited reach, since many relevant pages contain those words.”

The easiest fix is to just delete negative Display keywords.

3. Ads on Mobile Apps and Games

Google loves to do this. Your ad probably isn’t going to convert on a children’s game. Exclude placement with

4. Too Many Ads

For an ad test, more than two ads per ad group is usually too many. This takes too long for data to accumulate such that clear winners and losers emerge. You can test three ads only if your ad group accumulates many conversions quickly.

5. Obsessing Over Quality Score

Obsess over CTR, and a high Quality Score will come. Landing page quality is a very minor factor. You’ll only be penalized if load time is poor or content is sparse. Only worry if your Quality Score is 5 or below. Don’t worry if B2B CTR and Quality Score are low. Often, ad functions to screen out people outside your target audience.

6. Too Many Display Keywords

The ideal number of display keywords is four to six. That’s all the algorithm needs to characterize the theme of sites and pages where ads should appear. Having too many causes the algorithm to spread ads more widely and results in irrelevant clicks. Use the Display Planner tool.

7. Capitalizing Callout Extensions

Up to four callout extensions can appear in an ad. Google’s help pages say not to capitalize all the words in the call extension. Use sentence case. Trust Google. You’ll get a better CTR.

8. Tracking Too Many Conversion Actions

Let’s say you’re tracking purchases, email signups and whitepaper downloads. The issue is that each action has a different value, so the rolled up view of conversions gives a distorted picture of true return on ad spend (ROAS). Track one of two main (macro) conversions with AdWords and others with Google Analytics.

9. Blindly Opting Out of Search Partners

Many advertisers assume Search Partner traffic is inherently low in quality. The reality is that sometimes Search Partners CTRs and/or CVRs/CPAs are superior to Google Search. Test and report using Segment before excluding Search Partners.

10. Using High Commitment CTAs in Display Advertising

Search advertising is direct respond demand fulfillment, so high commitment CTAs like “Buy Now” are OK.

Display advertising is demand generation. The ad viewer isn’t ready/willing to take such a high commitment step. Buy, register, signup, etc., are too much commitment, while free download, free whitepaper, learn more and so forth are low-commitment calls to action.

11. Using Only “Old” Display Targeting Features

Old feature target sites: keyword and topic targeting. These are OK when a broad reach is desired, but otherwise they’re inefficient because many ads are shown on the wrong pages. Fixing this requires diligent, time-consuming exclusion of bad placements.

Szetela highlights the newer Display Targeting features: in-market, affinity audiences, and custom affinity audiences. He likes all of them. These target people based on their interests and activities, not sites. Google knows a lot about people, so it infers interests very well.

Szetela’s favorite among the new display targeting features? Custom Affinity Audiences, which are defined by describing interests and the kinds of sites frequented. Put a minimum of five keywords and five sites. So if you’re selling industrial power products, for example, you’re targeting managers of construction yards, as an example.

Mona Elesseily at PubconAvoiding Mistakes in the Paid Search Landscape – Mona Elesseily

Mona Elesseily (@WebMona) is the vice president of Online Marketing Strategy at Page Zero Media. She opens by talking about the landscape of search right now. She points out the two biggest trends currently:

  • We’re losing desktop share to mobile devices.
  • Search is more fragmented as people search on different devices.

She also says there is more white space between ads on today’s SERP. Elesseily shows an example of a SERP with one organic listing, with the rest of the page taken up with ads and a direct answer. Now, onto the eight AdWords mistakes she advises us to avoid!

1. Not using all ad formats available to you

There are keyword based ones and non-keyword based ones. Here are the non-keyword ones that have been working for Elesseily:

  • Google shopping
  • Call only campaigns (for mobile)
  • Dynamic search ads
  • Dynamic remarketing

2. Not getting negatives

On the negative side, be sure to include stemming, plurals, misspellings, etc.

These are included in the positive algorithm but not included in the negative algorithm

3. Not getting mobile

Attribution is breaks when people change devices (i.e phone to desktop, etc.) so be sure not to undervalue your mobile clicks. Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t reallocate mobile spend to desktop. People often search on mobile then convert on desktop.
  • Don’t bid down bids during lunch and the commute home as people are searching but not necessarily buying. They often return to buy on a phone or computer later in the day
  • Advertise on mobile at the end of the day as CPAs tend to be cheaper at the end of the day.

4. Not filtering clicks

For a B2B company that was targeting was HR professionals for the term “diversity training”, add words like “staff”, “train staff”, etc. to drive B2B prospects instead of B2C ones.

5. No screen real estate

Take up space with extension products. This is especially important on mobile.

6. Not testing ads

  • Even small changes in headline can lead to big differences.
  • “Ships same day” was a winning shipping offer for one of our clients.
  • Don’t stop there. Ships in 2 hours, ships now, etc. You can also use the ad customizer countdown feature. The testing never stops in accounts.

7. Missing key landing page elements

Good landing pages have certain elements. They are:

  • Headline
  • Image
  • Call to action (in more than one place on page)
  • Company info (why you and not competitor)
  • Customer benefits (in bullet form)
  • Testimonials
  • Credibility indicators

8. Mobile landing page mistakes

Good mobile pages have certain elements. They are:

  • Clear call to action
  • Simple form (4 fields or less)
  • Concise copy
  • Short headline (less than 4 words)
  • Tap friendly buttons
  • Fast load time
  • Folks need to immediately access info or they will bail (study by Google done on this)

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

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2 Replies to “Major AdWords Mistakes and How to Prevent Them – #Pubcon Liveblog”

Great tips , Adwords user even the most senior often make these mistakes. the obsession over quality is a big one

Virginia Nussey

Thanks, MRC. I’ll pass on your feedback to David Szetela. He started as VP of SEM Operations at BCI last month. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the feedback.


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