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Google AdWords is broken. If used incorrectly, it’s one of the quickest and most effective ways to waste a marketing budget. It’s also fundamentally misunderstood and built on a system of trust that funnels users in to making decisions that could lose them money every day. All of these issues stem from five myths, that corrupt accounts of all sizes, and by dissecting these myths anyone can succeed with Paid Search.
In this post and slide deck I break those myths.
Myth #1: You don’t need paid search if you have organic SEO
This is the myth I hear most often of all. It stems from the belief that Organic SEO is free and that Paid Search costs money. Therefore if you can get free clicks why would you pay for them?
Anyone who has worked in Organic SEO will know that it is never free. The time investment for Organic SEO in link building, technical audits, content creation and other activities is vast and thanks to frequent updates, such as Panda and Penguin, it’s also a process that never fully ends.
Which is why Paid Search actually has the potential to be cheaper than Organic SEO as well as being less stressful – as you won’t have to worry about animal based updates. If you get paid search right, it can be the most stable and consistent online marketing channel you have.
The other truth is that Paid Search accounts for 64.6% of all clicks for high intent commercial keyword searches (Wordstream). If you aren’t doing Paid Search then you are potentially missing out on two thirds of the market. That’s two thirds of the market that your competitors will be more than happy to take.
It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. In the below search for “hotels”, the organic search results are almost invisible. I can guarantee everyone knows someone that doesn’t even know what paid results are, and in this type of scenario they won’t be scrolling down to find organic results.
The other interesting thing about the above image is that Hotels.com are both the top organic result and paid result for the term. For a highly competitive term like “hotels”, they must be paying a lot to be the top result, for what in theory could be “free clicks”, but they want to dominate their niche, which is why they have both.
How much would they lose if they turned off their paid search? A study by Google found that if paid search adverts were turned off for a brand, 89% of the traffic they generated would not be replaced by organic results. So if Hotels.com turned off their paid adverts to get “free clicks” they would likely go to their competitors instead.
Hotels.com are also protecting their brand, which is necessary as it’s such a generic keyword; but what if you have something unique like “Marks and Spencer”? Well the level of threat to your brand can be just the same, even if you have the top organic result. Below you can see that Marks and Spencer have paid adverts bidding on their name from Prestige Flowers.
Whilst it would be great to live in a world where your brand name would be safe, unless you have a Trademark and protect it extensively, anyone can bid on your brand. Even then you have to ask Google to block it from being used, or monitor your brand (which Sam will talk about in her blog post later today).
Myth #2: The default settings of AdWords are ideal for new accounts
Depending on your perspective, there has never been a more defective “out of the box” adverting platform than Google AdWords. Everything in the default settings is designed to make you spend as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
A naive new user to AdWords can have their adverts appear for keywords that may not be related to those they entered and thus spend far more money than they need to do to get a click.
If you’re an agency, here’s one crazy example of how Google AdWords is set up badly by default. If you use the MCC and there are any error messages on a client account, you won’t receive them by default. So any advert disapprovals, campaign issues or even billing issues won’t be sent to you, leaving you blind to any issues.
Turning this on can be done by visiting Accounts > Notifications and clicking the “none” boxes. Within two minutes you’ll no longer be blind to major issues.
The most notorious default Google AdWords setting, and probably the biggest waste of budget, is “broad match”. By default, any new keywords show as “broad match”, giving Google permission to change your keyword to a similar term or add keywords before and after your keyword. Very quickly a keyword like “Tennis shoes” can become something else like “Running sneakers”.
If you add broad match keywords via the AdWords website, the only way to change their type is to use “” or [ ] around the keyword to specify a different match type, or to manually edit a keyword after it has been added.
Google made this even harder to keep track of by removing the “Match Type” column. This means that a new user, adding new keywords will have no visibility of pre-existing match types. They would blindly trust the default settings, and that’s a massive risk. This can be fixed by using phrase match and exact match keywords, alongside negative keywords to add control.
AdWords is broken, and negative keywords are the solution.
When you make adverts, there are two odd default settings that make it hard to test an account. The first is that ad groups are set to show the best performing advert more often. Great if you trust Google, not great if you want to do a 50 /50 test and draw your own conclusions. You can change this in Settings > Ad Rotation > Rotate Adverts Evenly.
Although even then after 90 days Google will stop rotating them, unless you add 2 new adverts in this time.
One more factor to consider is that by default you’ll be targeting the country where your business is based in its entirety. So if you serve other countries, or want to target a smaller region you can only do this via the campaign settings. It’s a little thing, but worth remembering that Google don’t try to guess where you should be shown. In fact as a general rule you should check everything under the “Campaign” settings.
Myth #3: Companies at the top pay more than those at the bottom
Google AdWords is typically referred to as an online auction which is a mistake. It implies that whoever bids the most gets the prize but that’s simply not true.
In short, their experiment found that the company with an average position of 1.8 was paying £1 less per click than the company with an average position of 3.7.
This isn’t a big secret, or a mistake in Google AdWords, and they are very honest that where you rank is based on how much you pay and another factor called; Quality Score.
The better your Quality Score the less you will pay per click. So by understanding this metric and meeting its criteria you will save money.
The changes you need to look at and how to improve them are:
Click Through Rate
• Write more appealing adverts to encourage clicks
• Use Ad Extensions and Sitelinks to help your adverts stand out
• Relate adverts to keywords so the keyword appears in bold
• Remove poorly performing keywords / adverts to make account better
• Test everything from day one
• View your “Change history” to make sure no one else has made changes
• Target locations you sell to, and split campaigns for each one
• Only target devices your site works with
• Create relevant landing pages for each keyword / advert
• Make small, focused Ad Groups
• Write adverts specific to keywords
• Split test adverts
• Experiment with different match types
• Use negative keywords
• Include keyword on the landing page
There’s a 6th factor which we’ll come to in a moment.
Myth #4: Paid Search and SEO are not connected
Several years ago, at a past agency, I used to have a client who said he wanted to play the “Google Game”. He believed that by being a good customer of AdWords, Google would reward him with better organic rankings, and that doing organic SEO reduced his paid search costs, as if there was some mystical link between the two.
It’s no surprise then that Google actively speak out against this;
“Search engine optimization affects only organic search results, not paid or “sponsored” results such as Google AdWords.” Google Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide
Of course the client was wrong. Google would never use AdWords advertising as a signal to improve organic results. It would be tantamount to bribery and they’d be running serious legal risks.
Yet the more On Page SEO I did, the less I had to pay for those pages in Google AdWords. Was doing Organic SEO helping to reduce our AdWords costs? Google certainly didn’t seem to think so.
There was no denying it. There was correlation and causation. I was sure that every time I improved a page, that specific page would start to have a lower CPC for the same rankings. In time I came to learn that the change was due to Quality Score, and that Google assess the quality of your Landing Page. When I did On Page SEO, I was improving my landing pages, which improved my Quality Score.
So I’m sorry Google, Search Engine Optimisation does affect “sponsored” results such as Google AdWords.
I’m not talking about links and social shares but basics like using a keyword in Page Header / Meta Title, and having relevant content to keywords does make a difference. You should also create pages for each topic and then point adverts to the most relevant one.
CRO also helps and the following factors will lead to more sales:
• Include a Call to Action
• Keep content clear and focused
• Split test pages
SEO’s also have skillsets that overlap amazingly with Paid Search, which is why most of the Koozai Digital Marketing team do both. Through keyword research for SEO, I discovered tools that were really helpful, and then when I learnt Paid Search those tools were great.
So if you have someone doing SEO, mine their keyword data and use tools like:
• SpyFu Kombat
• Google Keyword Tool
Even if Google Keyword Tool presents lots of rubbish irrelevant results, it’s still great for keyword research. You won’t find a better tool for seeing which ridiculous keywords Google may choose to show your Phrase and Broad match keywords for. So as you use every keyword tool, make two lists. One for positive keywords and one for negative keywords. With Paid Search there is no such thing as a wasted keyword.
SEO and Paid Search projects should also converge via Google Analytics. Checking which organic keywords convert well, you can target them on Paid Search. In addition if someone sends you a lot of good traffic in AdWords, you should let your SEO know they should go after it organically.
One last area for overlap is to use Excel where you can. Whether it be a bulk import to Google AdWords Editor, or doing a find and replace in Excel to create lots of keyword variations in one go, it’s an excellent way to expand accounts. To help with this the SEOgadget AdWords API Extension is a quick way to pull data from Google AdWords.
So if you work on Paid Search think like an SEO.
Myth #5: The display network is not as effective
The last myth is most likely caused by either:
• People attributing a low Click Through Rate as worse performance
• People are using text adverts on what is an image led channel
But here’s the kicker:
So regardless of what you think of the display network, it accounts for 20% of all Google AdWords traffic (Source) so is 100% worthy of your time and budget.
If you need more convincing read this case study that tells the story of airbnb and how they used the display network to sell bookings for two million nights. As a comparison they estimate they’d have only sold 800,000 nights without it.
How did this happen? Their CTO explains:
“Pictures of properties sell properties – the Google Display Network allows us to put forth these incredible photos and that’s why GDN has been so successful for us.”
Nathan Blecharczyk, CTO & Co-Founder , Airbnb
He has a point. Their product thrives on being visual. I want to see a room, not read a tiny text description.
Then there’s retargeting. Quite frankly, one of the cleverest forms of advertising there is. It allows you to follow people around the web after they view a page on your site and market to them. Here are just a few examples:
Every one of those examples is targeted to me (or Sam in the case of the dress.) They are incredibly effective adverts as this stat shows:
The Truth About Paid Search
We have now dispelled five myths and proven that AdWords is broken, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fix it, or that it can’t work amazingly well for you. If there’s a single theme that unites this blog post it’s to be curious. To never accept anything as a given, and to test every setting and every single aspect of your Paid Search campaign to get the best response.
These myths exist because people are lazy and want to save themselves time so they create rules. They also represent a massive opportunity for you to fight back. To not be held back by these myths and to go your own way Paid Search.
Search engine technology is evolving, and so is the digital marketing industry. The more experienced professionals amongst you may remember the days of gleefully stuffing keywords into your copy to boost your rankings, blindly spamming strangers to join your email lists and easily securing media coverage for your thinly veiled advertisements.
Site speed is an important area of website optimisation that people working in the world of Search Engine Optimisation are becoming increasingly concerned about.