This post is an update of our “5 Common AdWords Mistakes” blog post.

Google AdWords can often seem like a great mystery. Why can’t I just set up an account, pick some words and see the site traffic roll in?

Google is complicated

Paid search is one of the best ways to increase traffic to your website. When used correctly, paid search can be a highly effective tool, but when used incorrectly, it can be a waste of time and money.

If any of the 11 common AdWords mistakes that are listed below sound familiar, then it’s time to adjust your PPC strategy.

Mistake #1: Not Knowing Your Competitors

online competitors are like fish all attacking the same worm

Source: The Globe and Mail

Your competitors are a source of free learnings. Use them.

They can teach you keywords that are worth targeting or whether certain types of ads (like display ads, Google Shopping Ads, etc.) could be effective in your account. You can also benefit from paying attention to what tactics competitors are using in their ad copy.

Ad copy should distinguish you from your competitors. A sure way to gain mediocre results is to look the same as everyone else.

If none of the ads on the results page advertise product pricing, then you might try showing your prices. If all of your competitors are including their brand name in their ad copy, you might opt to leave your brand name out and talk about extra features or benefits of your company.

Another reason to look at your competitors is to determine if you want to bid on their brand names. The advantage of bidding on your competitors’ brand names is that your ads show any time someone searches your competitor’s brand. This is an effective way of building brand awareness in your prospects.

Competitors provide shortcuts to knowledge that could take months to learn on your own. Before starting your campaign, do a few test searches to survey the competitive landscape and see what tactics they use.

Mistake #2: Expecting Too Much From AdWords

SpongeBob thinks AdWords is magic

This is one of the most common AdWords mistakes.

Here’s the scenario:

A new client wants to expand their business and decides that paid search is the main driver of that growth. They start an AdWords account. Several weeks pass by, and the client grows confused as to why the expected growth isn’t happening.

The reason? Inaccurate expectations that lead to poor strategy.

Too often, businesses expect to set up an AdWords account, target a handful of relevant keywords, set a budget of around $200/month and then not touch the account again while driving hundreds of visitors to their site.

As we’ll see later in this post, not optimizing your account is a big mistake, but I would like to touch on two issues in particular: validity and budget.


By “validity,” I mean whether or not paid search is a good idea for your business. Who should use AdWords? Only people who stand to benefit from it in their industry.

That’s right – a digital marketing company is telling you that paid search isn’t always the way to go.

Trying to fit a round peg in a square hole

Source: WordStream

There are certain industries that won’t benefit from a PPC campaign because of the way customers behave inside those communities. If your market fits into a very small niche, or if people don’t search for your products or services online, then paid search will do little to help grow your business.

A way to determine whether paid search will work for your company is to use Google’s Keyword Planner. This tool allows you to see the estimated search traffic for specific keywords.

Look at volume data for keywords that your prospects would actually search for. If there is a lot of traffic in your market, then get started on a PPC campaign as soon as possible! If not, then there is little that can be expected from PPC.

Remember, paid search only captures existing traffic; it does not generate new traffic.


Some believe that a smaller PPC budget is all that’s needed to see growth. That is short-sighted thinking.

Look at it this way: AdWords makes you set a daily budget. $200/month breaks down to about $7/day. On average, a click on your ad will cost between $1 and $2 (this average can be much higher depending on your market).

This tells us that, at a $7/day budget, we can expect to see 3-7 clicks per day. We could get seven customers to our site at maximum. Even with the best conversion rate, you can see how progress would be stunted with such a restrictive budget.

Instead, if the budget allows at least 30-40 searchers to visit the website per day, you stand a much better chance of actually growing your business. A realistic starting budget for the average PPC account is somewhere between $30-$60/day (or $900-$1,800/month).

This budget allows dozens of searchers to find your company every day and provides you with enough data to optimize your account toward becoming more effective.

Read more about how to set an effective PPC budget.

Mistake #3: Relying Too Much on Automated Tools

relying on Google automatic tools to run an AdWords campaign is like throwing money off the balcony

Source: WordStream

Did you know that when you set up a new AdWords account, you have to manually change the settings so they do not default to giving Google control?

You don’t want your bids or ad scheduling to be automated.

The reason?

AI, or machine learning, has not yet attained the level required to outperform the reasoning and connections humans can make. Whatever scary articles you may read online about how all our jobs are going to be eaten up by robots, we still have a superior ability to analyze and make conclusions about data.

Even the verbiage has changed with how these tools are pitched. Google knows automated tools are not able to achieve the same level of results as people. In the past, they advertised, “Use these tools to drive conversions.” Now it’s “Use these tools to drive clicks or traffic.”

If the primary goal of PPC or AdWords were to get traffic to your site, this business would be easy! But it’s not about that. It’s about getting qualified traffic to your site and getting them to take action, like buying your product or service.

Relying on AI prevents you from learning and knowing why things are happening. It gives control to an entity other than you that does not understand your business as well.

AI tools gather data and historical understanding to make decisions in real time. But what happens if you’re in a volatile market, with many factors at play at any given moment? If the AI tools have never dealt with your industry’s level of volatility, you’re taking a huge risk by letting them make automatic adjustments when things fluctuate drastically in your vertical.

At Qualbe, we don’t use AI tools because it prevents us from learning (one of our core values). We want to know why certain fluctuations are happening so we can prepare and adjust for them in the future.

If you really want maximum efficiency out of your account, you need to be willing to do the hard work to understand and analyze the data and maintain control of your account’s decisions.

Mistake #4: Not Optimizing Your AdWords Account

what if I told you AdWords is not that simple

Source: The Metro Creative

Optimizations are adjustments made to improve overall performance and effectiveness in AdWords.

Paid search is much more than a one-and-done task. You could spend hours upon hours on dozens of aspects of your AdWords account. Below are some of the top areas that should not be ignored.

Keyword Bid Management

Even if you start off all your keywords with Google’s suggested bid, you still need to check keyword bids at least once a month.

Your keywords are fighting in a competitive arena that is constantly changing. New opponents emerge, and old opponents learn new tricks.

While you don’t want to overpay, you also don’t want to fall off the search results page! Finding a balance requires consistent monitoring.

Ad Optimization

It doesn’t matter how well you’re managing your keyword bids if your ad’s copy doesn’t inspire people to click.

Now, it’s impossible to write a new ad into existence that starts performing perfectly. There will always be a different way to phrase your selling points that will ever-so-slightly improve performance.

If you need some ideas for tweaks, numbers are a great place to start – dates, how long you’ve been in business, how much money you’ve saved people, etc. Think McDonald’s:

mcdonalds hamburgers over 99 billion served

Source: Wikipedia

Repeatedly tweaking ad copy can be time-consuming but is essential to achieving a high-performing AdWords account. One company increased click-through rate by 217% and conversion rate by 23% simply by adding a timely number to the text.

Keyword List Optimization

that's not enough, we have to go deeper

Source: Jungle Scout

When you start an AdWords account, one of the first things you do is add keywords you would like to target. This is good.

The common mistake – and a deceptively expensive mistake – is to stop there.

Here’s why: If you use the wrong match type, or don’t use negative keywords, then your ads are potentially showing for unwanted traffic. Negative keywords prevent ads from being shown when a query uses a word that you’ve identified as “irrelevant.”

For example, a client of ours sold joint sleeves that keep the joint warm and protected while healing from injury. One of the phrase-match keywords in the account was “arm sleeve”.

Within the first few days, we noticed we were paying for clicks for terms like “nfl teams arm sleeve.”

Our money was being spent on dedicated sports fans who wanted to show their team spirit, not protect their healing joints! So we added several negative keywords to ensure we didn’t waste money on NFL merchandise queries.

Conversely, if you only use exact-match keywords, then highly relevant queries will be missed. This prevents users from reaching your site and costs you business.

From optimizing your keyword bids and ad copy to using the correct match type and adding negative keywords, there is a lot of critical work to be done in a healthy AdWords account.

Mistake #5: Poor Account Structure

special snowflake saying no one appreciates me for me

“Each account is its own special little snowflake.”Search Engine Land

Not only is not optimizing a mistake, but so is not optimizing correctly.

Sometimes a little bit of attention to your account can hurt more than help, because it muddles the data. Because your account isn’t structured and segmented in a very granular, detailed way, you can’t isolate which parts are performing well and which are not.

Ideally, you should give each keyword you’re targeting its own individual AdGroup so you can see individually what is performing well and what is not. These are called “SKAGs” – single-keyword AdGroups.

Your response might be, “Wow, that’s time-consuming!” For example, if you have an ecommerce site selling 100 different items, it’s going to take a long time to set up your AdWords account under this type of model – but it’s worth it.

You can optimize as effectively and efficiently as possible and see an exponential increase in your ROI. We have seen that this is the easiest way to address quality score issues within your account.

And since you don’t want to take the time to focus on SKAGs (single-keyword AdGroups), odds are your competitors don’t either. That’s why you’ll have a huge advantage if you take the time to implement this strategy.

Because SKAGs are so time-consuming, it’s also very important to do good keyword research ahead of time to figure out which search terms are actually worth tracking. The 80/20 rule definitely applies to your AdWords account. Do research with Google’s Keyword Planner on the front end to determine which are likely to be your few words that will produce the bulk of your traffic. You can always come back and update keywords later, based on new data.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and different accounts or campaigns will require different levels of detail. Consistent monitoring and analysis is key.

Mistake #6: Focusing Too Much on One “Vanity” Metric

disregard vanity metrics, create value

Myopia is toxic in any area of business.

When a CEO becomes obsessed with one strategy for the company, regardless of what the data show, the company suffers. A salesperson focused on the marketing department not doing its job might miss shortcomings in his own sales approach or even shortcomings in the product.

The same applies to AdWords. We commonly see people latching onto one metric or a couple of metrics and determining that those numbers alone determine success. They fail to see the big picture. We call these kinds of data “vanity metrics.

For example, “CTR” or click-through rate is a very common metric to focus on. It’s important, and you do want it to be as high as possible. While that can be true, metrics are easily manipulated.

We love this vanity metrics checklist from Kissmetrics:

how most people pick their metrics

If you really want to drive up CTR and have an impressive upward-to-the-right line to present at your next meeting, you can go pause the generic keywords and only show ads for branded keywords. But that would be counterproductive in almost all cases to the ultimate goal, right? The goal of increasing profits and building your business.

As another example, your PPC manager could raise bids and get all ads to show in the top spot. Click-through rates will then increase. But are more people necessarily buying? Are you capturing the right people? At that point, are you getting a positive return on your financial investment? Probably not.

Emphasize business goals over “magic” metrics. Metrics are one tool of many to help see the big picture of how your company is accomplishing its goals. Avoid vanity metrics at all costs – worthless metrics that don’t really tell you anything. Look at all the metrics together, mash the data and take the time to figure out what it’s really saying.

Mistake #7: Not Aligning AdWords Decisions with Business Goals

doge says align your adwords decisions with your business goals

Do your AdWords decisions match your business goals? Crunch the numbers and see what amount of ad spend makes sense for your industry. What might be an exorbitant amount in one business could be spare change in another.

We’ve run across IT companies that want to run an AdWords campaign to compete with other IT companies for big accounts. Just one closed deal can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for them.

But they don’t want to spend more than $8 a click.

That is not realistic. When considering what you are willing to pay for a click, you need to consider aspects like whether you have a high-volume, low-revenue product, or a low-volume, high-revenue product.

On the other side of the coin, one of our client websites,, sells dental discount plans that start at $99/year for one person. The cost-per-click should be much lower for a site like that.

You can’t compare ad spend for a B2C website that sells dental plans with a B2B website that sells IT services to large companies. Adjust your expectations for cost-per-click in accordance with your particular industry.

Another important question to ask is “What do I need to count as a conversion in order to align with my business goals?” It doesn’t have to just be a financial transaction.

For example, a business goal could be driving more phone calls to your call center. But then you fail to write ads that have a “Call Now” CTA, you don’t bid up on mobile and you neglect to set a phone call as a conversion. Another example of AdWords goals not aligning with your business goals. Within AdWords, you have the ability to set phone calls as a conversion. Make sure to take advantage of those options.

Mistake #8: Sending Paid Search Traffic to Poor Landing Pages

landing pages are buddy the elf's favorite

A relevant, specific landing page is just as important as ad copy.

If a user clicks and arrives at a landing page that doesn’t meet their expectations, that visitor will leave.

One of our team members was in charge of the marketing strategy for a company working in the DFW real estate vertical. At the client’s request, they sent all PPC traffic to the homepage.

On-site metrics were awful: ~80% Bounce Rate, and users were only staying for 33 seconds on average and viewing 2 pages/visit.

After a few weeks of gathering the discouraging data, we asked the client about sending traffic to some different pages on the site. These new pages showed all of the real estate listings the company owned in specific cities. Our thought was that users came to the site wanting to look at listings in the area they were searching for instead of a generic homepage.

Simply by tweaking where we were sending traffic, we saw dramatic lifts in performance.

In just the first week of the new landing pages, Bounce Rate decreased by 14%, users viewed over double the number of pages and stayed on-site 350% longer!

A consistent pattern is that the longer people stay on-site and the more they interact with the site, the more likely they are to convert. If you are not sending PPC traffic to the right landing page, then expect to continually see mediocre results.

Mistake #9: Not Optimizing Your Landing Pages

This mistake gets into conversion rate optimization (the process of increasing your website’s conversion rate) and page design, but it is worth mentioning in this list.

It’s important to realize that PPC is not a stand-alone tactic. It is best used in conjunction with all of the other marketing tactics (SEO, CRO, Social Platforms, etc.).

You can be doing everything right: writing engaging and unique ad copy, targeting highly relevant keywords and sending PPC traffic to great landing pages. But if the landing page doesn’t convert, then it’s time to take an honest look at the page and the website to figure out where improvements can be made.

Simply changing the wording on the page, altering your CTAs or reworking your selling points on the page can make a big impact in the conversion rate of PPC traffic.

One rule of thumb is to make sure the product/service messaging stays the same from the ad to the web page. If your ad mentions a benefit, then that same benefit should be reflected on the landing page.

Conversion rate optimization can make the difference between a failed PPC campaign and a successful one.

Mistake #10: Not Leveraging New Tools and Strategies in AdWords

AdWords is almost always rolling out new extensions and types of ads you can use to make your account more effective and reach more users. But it takes consistent planned effort to know how it’s coming, when it’s coming and how it can help your account. Another reason constant monitoring is key.

A couple of examples:

Rollout of expanded text ads that just happened over the last year or so. These ads are geared specifically toward mobile devices like smartphones and feature nearly 50% more ad text than the normal Google ads.

At first, expanded text ads were just an option, but as of January of this year Google phased out its old, shorter ads. While others were still using the old ad styles, the early adopters like Guitar Center saw improved metrics like a 2x increase in click-through rate.

Price Extensions. Right now you have the standard H1 and H2 description (heading and subheading), but then you have other areas below where things can populate in the search results. Now Google will actually show the different prices of what you’re selling. Using this extension not only primes users before they click your ad but takes up more space, making your ad more visible and eye-catching.

These Google updates are excellent opportunities, but if you don’t learn and leverage them and your competitors do, you’ll be left behind.

Mistake #11: Not Carpe-ing the Diem

start dayparting right meow

There’s an important concept in paid search advertising called “Dayparting.” It revolves around the important questions, “When is best to spend? And how much?”

Dayparting allows you to analyze and gain the answers to these bottom line-impacting questions.

Let’s say you’re a landscaping company. If the prime days people search for lawn services are Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, you want to make sure your ads and bids are adjusted to show during those peak hours. You’ll want to ramp up your focus and your spending to take advantage of that higher search volume.

On the other hand, you’ll want to decrease adspend on the other days so you don’t end up wasting money. You just won’t get the same ROI for the same amount of ads on Tuesday mornings and Friday nights. Maybe people are not searching at those times, or perhaps they’re just searching for information but not ready to make buying decisions.

WordStream has a great resource to help you employ dayparting.


Managing an AdWords account can grow your business quickly and effectively if handled with expertise. Alternatively, paid search can lead to lots of wasted spend and frustration if you make the common mistakes listed above.

Using what’s explained in this post, we invite you to determine how to best employ your paid search strategy. Comment below with your thoughts or questions and let us know if you would like help growing your business.

A big thank you to Joe Meyer and Jonathan Moore for providing their expertise for this post.