The key to success when using Google AdWords

Many people see Google AdWords as a magic bullet for their advertising needs: but how can you make sure you're getting the maximum value for your business's online visibility?

Many people see Google AdWords as a magic bullet for their advertising needs: but how can you make sure you’re getting the maximum value for your business’s online visibility?

For many businesses, whether new or looking to expand, Google AdWords is viewed as the one-stop shop. “You just need a PPC account and then you will have plenty of customers” is the thought process that potential advertisers are lured into every day.

So with a keyword list, a monthly spend budget and a lot of enthusiasm, great efforts are put into creating an initial AdWords account that will fulfil your marketing dreams. Once all the hard work is done, the customers will flow.

However that is the greatest misconception of an AdWords account. Creating it is the easy part of the process. Ongoing management is where the difficulties lie.

Hidden complexities

Google AdWords can be deceptive in its complexity. On the surface it seems like a simple thing to set up, especially given that Google provides plenty of helpful guidance on the technicalities of account creation.

Many new businesses believe that once their AdWords account is created, that the hard work is done and they can just sit back and watch the leads roll in. However, in reality this is rarely, if ever, the case and the hard work is just beginning.

More frequently, beginner account managers will see campaigns that either spend budget without converting leads or, sometimes more frustratingly, fail to generate the expected traffic at all.

Whilst Google provides help files on the technical aspects of account creation, there are many things that are not made clear about how the different features and settings of an account interact. In fact, there are many things that are completely external to the AdWords account that can have a significant impact on your account performance.

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Without an understanding of these best practices, accounts are open to a number of problems that can cause you to needlessly waste budget. Even for the experienced AdWords account manager, the exact way that these problems will manifest themselves is not always clear until the account has been running.

This is why you need to ensure that the account is managed consistently so that these issues can be picked up before they needlessly waste budget (or opportunities) and the accounts can be optimised accordingly.

The array of problems that can cause an account to underperform or waste budget are far too vast to cover in just one article, but in this next section I will describe some of the most common examples and make suggestions on how to diagnose and fix them:

For this section, for ease, I am going to make the assumption that your account has been constructed in accordance with basic best practice principles: you have separate campaigns for each product or service type and have built tightly themed groups of keywords in separate adgroups for each feature of the product or service.

If this is not the case, then you likely have more significant issues to attend to before looking to optimise the areas below.

What to look out for when campaigns are draining budget too quickly?

Once you have built your account and set your campaigns live, you may find that your budget, especially if it is a modest one, may not last the entire day. This can be down to many reasons but I will cover the most likely one here.

“Negative Keywords”. If you created your own campaigns and this word means nothing to you, please pause your campaigns and address this immediately.

Many people put a lot of effort into the keywords that they want their adverts to appear for when building their AdWords campaigns, but in reality, to ensure you are using your budget to its full potential, it is often more important to pay attention to the keywords for which you don’t want to appear. This is managed by use of negative keywords.

Negative keywords are a list of terms that will prevent your ads from triggering if they are present in the user’s search query.

For example if your store sells leather shoes, you may have keywords in your account for “Leather Shoes”. Lets for instance say that you don’t stock any in the colour red. In this case you will want to add “red” as a negative keyword so that the search query “red leather shoes” doesn’t trigger your ads on a phrase match when the customer is clearly looking for something you don’t stock. (I have italicized the part of this query that would trigger your ad).

Whilst you may have a good idea of the predominant terms that you will need to add as negatives when you first build your negatives list, there will always be unwanted search queries from users that trigger your ads that you never expected. This is where one of the most useful reports in the AdWords interface comes into play – the Search Query Report or SQR for short.

This report shows you every search term that triggered your ads. You can sort this data in many different ways, but looking at the impression and click volumes will be the quickest way to identify problem phrases that you need to add as negatives.

The flip side to this is that the SQR is also your opportunity to discover positive search terms that you had not thought of when creating the account. This gives you an insight on which keywords to focus on to grow your campaigns and build relevant, converting traffic.

The Search Query Report can be found under the Details tab on the keyword page of the AdWords interface.

What to do if you have a keyword or adgroup that is dominating spend within a campaign?

When you create a campaign, you have selected a range of terms and separated them into adgroups. You have included these adgroups because they are relevant to your product and the search queries you expect from users.

You want to ensure that all of these adgroups have a chance to operate, otherwise creating them is a waste of time.

For this topic, you have to think about where in the purchase funnel a particular keyword/adgroup sits.

You may have an adgroup that is very relevant to your product and drives a lot of clicks through to your website, but is predominantly a research term for customers at the beginning of the purchase cycle.

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It is important to ensure that you maintain visibility on these keywords, but you must not let them spend your entire budget at the expense of your lower volume but higher converting terms.

It is important to remember that these research terms share the same campaign budget as the other adgroups, which may be the terms that a customer who is more informed will search through when they are ready to make a purchase.

If you have a modest campaign budget, you may want to look at separating these research terms out into their own campaigns, with a separate managed budget. This will allow you to ensure that the slower, lower volume, but potentially higher converting adgroups further down the funnel still have an amount of budget available to them for when a customer is ready to purchase.

What to do when cost per click for your prime keywords is too high?

Every account has a number of keywords which outperform the rest of the account. Often these are also the most expensive keywords, since your competitors also realize how effective these keywords are. This can lead to occasions where you are spending more than you are comfortable with for the top positions.

Before simply increasing your bid to keep your ad rank positioning, there are other things you can look at to reduce your cost per click (cpc).

The most important of these is your keyword Quality Score (QS). This is a stat that is awarded to each of your accounts keywords by Google. QS has a huge impact on how much you spend per click as it is used to calculate your position in the Google AdWords auction for each search query that you appear for.

Put simply, QS is a value from 1 to 10, which is multiplied by how much you are prepared to bid to determine your position in the ad auction (your max CPC value). The higher the quality score, the better your multiplier and, in theory, the less you have to spend for each click.

You need to look at the QS for each of your keywords and look to optimise it to ensure you are keeping your CPCs as low as you can. This is particularly important if your keywords have a QS of less than 7.

Your QS is determined by a number of factors but the key thing you need to focus on is relevancy. Google is adamant that it wants to provide its users with the most relevant organic and paid links possible and it will penalize you if it believes your paid ads are not relevant.

This means that your adcopy must include and be relevant to the keyword it is triggering. This is why it is important to separate your keywords into distinct adgroups so that each adgroup can have its own, highly relevant adcopy. The keyword and adcopy must also be relevant to the content of the landing page.

If the keywords you are triggering for do not appear on the landing page for example, it is unlikely that you will have a good QS. (Google also wants you to use the available ad extensions and using these will improve your ad quality scores.)

Sometimes, pure optimisation is not enough and your prime keyword’s CPCs will continue to spiral upward as a result of competitors with deeper pockets. In this instance you need to look to diversify your account with long tail versions of your keywords.

Using the Search Query Report, which we discussed earlier in this article, is a perfect way to identify opportunities that will cost you less.

>Further reading: Improving your customers’ mobile experience following latest Google updates

Another opportunity to look at is the time of day you are operating your ads.
Just like you, your competitors are running on a daily budget and chances are that they are beginning to run out of budget towards the end of the day.

Try using the Ad Scheduling options in the campaign settings tab to conserve your budget for these keywords until a period in the day where your competitor is running out of budget and see if that gives you clicks at a lower CPC.

Steps you can take to optimise campaigns that have poor click through rates (low customer interaction)

One of the most frustrating things you may have to deal with is a campaign where you are seeing large volumes of relevant impressions (because you have updated your negative keyword lists as we have discussed) but you are generating a low click through rate.

This can be the result of many factors, but the most common ones are down to your ad copy and your ad rank.

One of the biggest pitfalls an advertiser can fall into when creating their ads is to try and stuff too many sales messages into the character limit. If your ads are not generating a good click through rate, return to your adcopy and test a new variation.

Try to think from the customer’s perspective and what information they would want to see that will make them click. It’s tempting to stuff as much info as you can into the ad but it’s often better to create a single strong message than 3 weak ones.

Remember that if you have an advert in the top 3 positions, you can use sitelink extensions to add more lines of information about your product. (Adcopy should be a continually evolving thing. Try for a minimum of two ad variations for each adgroup and regularly test new wording.)

This now brings us onto ad rank. If your average positioning is too low you may be missing out on clicks. In general, the higher you can maintain your ad rank, the more likely that you will get a click.

You can use the “Search Lost IS” column in the AdWords interface to help gauge what impact this is having on your keywords. You do need to find a sweet spot between this positioning and your costs per click though to ensure you are making a good return on your investment. Over time with continued testing you will get a feel for where this position is and it may not be in the top 3 at all.

Another issue you might need to look into is ensuring that the correct keyword is triggering for the search query. Sometimes, if you have a campaign with lots of similar adgroups, phrase match keywords from a less relevant adgroup, but with a better quality score, can fire instead of the keywords you built for this specific query type.

This means that adcopy that is not the most relevant may be shown to your customer and can result in low click through rates. To ensure this doesn’t happen, it is advisable to set negative keywords at the adgroup level. This will allow you to negative the keywords that drive an adgroups theme from the other adgroups in a campaign and prevent them from competing with each other for traffic they weren’t intended for.

What can you optimise if you have a good ad click through rate but low conversions or a high bounce rate?

As mentioned earlier, there are some aspects of ongoing AdWords optimisation that have absolutely nothing to do with the AdWords interface itself.

If you are finding that your campaigns are driving traffic to your site but you are not seeing an uplift in conversions, then there a few things for you to consider.

Landing page relevance.  We touched on this in a previous section about QS. When choosing your advert’s landing page you must ensure it contains the type of content that the customer is expecting to find from clicking on your ad.

Make it simple to read with relevant headlines that let a customer know they are in the right place. It has been claimed that you only have between 1 – 4 seconds to capture a customer’s interest before they decide to lave the page or “bounce”.

It is also important that your site is easy to use with obvious links/buttons for purchasing or enquiring about your product/service. If this is not laid out well, having the best performing AdWords account in the world is not going to help.


Many of these issues will appear in the life of any AdWords account. They will not necessarily manifest themselves at the same time or at the beginning of an accounts life cycle, as often it requires a certain level of traffic for the symptoms to be noticeable.

This is why it is important to continually monitor your AdWords accounts. Ideally you will check your accounts every day, which will take up to 20 minutes. If not every day you should aim for at least 2-3 times per week.

If you can’t realistically devote this much time to the management of your AdWords account, it may be advisable to hire the services of a dedicated account manager from a digital marketing agency to ensure that you are getting the best return for your marketing spend.

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Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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