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Common PPC Mistakes

| 6 minutes to read

Google AdWordsWhat are the most common errors we see with PPC accounts? Having worked in the Online Marketing game for a few years now, I have seen many attempts at setting up an AdWords account at home. While there are some things that pop up occasionally, there are other errors that I see time and time again.

I recently bet a friend a pint that he would have committed at least five of the classic mistakes I describe below; needless to say, I got myself a free drink! The reason for this isn’t just related to the lack of training on the part of the Account owner… I think Google can take some of the blame for this; usually a mistake in AdWords will be met with increased cost, and increased cost means increased revenue for Google.

So it seems to me that it is not entirely in Google’s interest to help their users from making these mistakes. Maybe I am just cynical! But by following the below instructions you can improve your AdWords campaign, reduce costs and make more money.

1.       No Keyword research

Keyword research should be the first stage in setting up any PPC campaigns as it lays the foundations for everything that comes afterwards. Unfortunately most PPC campaigns have had no keyword research performed. Normally it seems that when people setup a PPC campaign and they are choosing their keywords, they ask “is this what someone would search for?”

Fortunately, thanks to the statistical data on offer, it is possible to see how many people search for a given term, thus answering the question.

When it comes to keyword research for PPC there are really only four factors that can influence your decision:

  1. Search volume
  2. Cost per Click
  3. Competition
  4. Relevance

The first three on the above list are quantified numerically within the AdWords Keyword tool itself; you can see what the expected CPC will be, and how many people search for the keyword on each match type. Relevance is simply something you will have to assess for yourself. Below are some simple steps to guide you through basic keyword research within AdWords:

First go to AdWords and select “keyword Tool” from the menu “Tools and Analysis”:

Then add the column illustrated below so that you can see the CPC for keywords:

Once you have a list of keyword ideas you can download them as a CSV file which can be opened in Excel:

Once you have downloaded your keyword ideas, you must review them and select those that are good candidates for your campaign. At this point you are simply compiling lists, rather than making any structure so do not upload these simply keep them for later.

A “good candidate” for a keyword will vary depending on your requirements and budget, but there is some basic mathematics to take into consideration. If you have no previous data then you will not know your conversion rate, but if you do some research and try to establish a reasonable range for conversion rate.  Using this figure you can extrapolate what sort of CPC you should be looking to get. For example, if you hope or expect to convert at around 5% and your profit per conversion is £10 then you will need to pay less than £0.50 per click in order to break even.

2.       Not understanding Match Types

“Match Types” are intrinsic to all keywords with a PPC campaign; by default all keywords are set to “board match”, this is the most generic and potentially costly match type. Below is a brief explanation of each of the three match types:

Broad – Simply put a keyword on broad match and it will trigger your ads not only when the keyword is searched upon but also for synonyms on any of the words comprising your keyword.

Phrase – Phrase match keywords will trigger ads so long as the exact keyword exists within the search term. So the search term “big red widgets online” would trigger your ad for the keyword “red widgets”.

Exact – This is the most limiting setting for a keyword, ads will only be displayed should someone search for your keyword exactly as it is written. Although now Google do also include misspells or words for exact match types.

Because all keywords are defined by their match type and they have to have a match type, it cannot be ignored. What I see on almost every PPC campaign setup by someone untrained in PPC management is that everything is set to broad match. This has knock on effects in other areas as you will see.

3.       No negative keywords

Given that in most campaigns all keywords are set to broad match, having negative keywords is essential. Negative keywords prevent ads from being triggered and they too have match types the same as normal keywords.

To provide a working example of the practical application of negative keywords; let’s assume we are still targeting “red widgets” on either phrase or broad match but you do not want your ads triggered if someone searches for “small red widgets”, because we only sell big ones!  So by adding the word “small” as a broad or phrase match negative keyword will prevent ads from being triggered is the word “small” is present in the search term.

Negative keywords are only needed if you are using phrase or broad match keywords, but if you are using those you WILL need negative keywords. Because broad match is so broad, your ad could be triggered for all kinds of search terms that will have no relevance. This will affect your CTR (Click Through Rate) and that will affect your quality score and that will affect how much you pay per click.

4.       All keywords in one ad group

This is as common as setting all keywords to broad match and it can have an equally strong negative affect on your account. The main reason why one would split out keywords into either their own ad group or group them together very closely with only a few keywords per ad group is; to increase the relevance of your ads.

For example if you have the ad copy:

“Big Red Widgets, quality craftsmanship, over 20 years of experience at making widgets…”

…and you have one ad group with 50 keywords in it, let’s assume that you have “red widgets”, “blue widgets” and “triangular widgets” among 47 other keywords… The ad copy (above) would only be relevant to a small percentage of the keywords, if not just a couple. By having small groups of similar keywords in an ad group, your ad copy can be directly relevant to those keywords.

Relevance between keywords and ad copy and the landing page makes up a significant part of your quality score which affects the cost per click. So it is important to improve relevance wherever you can. Furthermore, poor or irrelevant ad copy will reduce your CTR for relevant search terms thus further reducing your quality score.

5.       No split testing

Split testing in the context of PPC is the process of improving the performance of your ads by running two side by side and seeing which one performs best; once you have a clear winner, the optimal ad is copied and changed slightly and then these two are run against each other. This process repeats over and over and the result is a constantly improved ad.

For this to work you need at least 2 ads per ad group to run against each other. This process improves the performance of your ads which affected quality score and, yes you guessed it, cost!



  1. SEO Nottingham avatar

    Never done ppc only ever had organic traffic but i think its time to take on this new info and see what happens thanks for sharing.

  2. Amen avatar

    Great post for users new to paid advertising

  3. Mitch avatar

    Thanks Alec, good overview of some often overlooked issues. Looking forward to more :)

  4. Trevor avatar

    Great intro to PPC, very informative post. Really enjoying the posts.

  5. Alec Sharratt avatar

    No problem, thanks for your comment!

  6. Curtis Worthington avatar
    Curtis Worthington

    Very nice guide for people starting up in the ppc game. These mistakes are very common but fixing them is an easy way to dramatically improve your campaign. Thanks Alec.

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