The Road to PPC Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions: 3 Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making


PPC Worst Practices, AdWords Worst Practices

In PPC marketing, as in all walks of life, your best intentions can sometimes get you into trouble. Even “best practices” often have unintended side effects!

Last week I partnered with Sean Quadlin at Hanapin Marketing to host a webinar called “Good Intentions Gone Wrong: 7 Worst Practices in PPC.” Here are three of those “good intentions” that can hurt your PPC account and cost you money and leads.

Worst Practice #1: Keyword Expansion or Bust!

Some marketers have an “expand or die” attitude in PPC. You want every impression possible, so you’re constantly browsing the opportunities tab and adding new keywords that your competitors are bidding on. Growth is a good thing, yes, but if you focus on expansion over organization, your ad groups are probably out of control.

Ask yourself these two questions:

  • What’s your average number of keywords per ad group?
  • Are your Quality Scores dropping?

If you’re always adding new keywords into your existing ad groups, your Quality Scores are likely suffering as a result. So what’s the alternative? Focus on improving your keyword research, not just expanding it:

  • Don’t automatically bid on a term just because you find it in your research.
  • Add new keywords to their own ad groups, or regularly split large ad groups down into smaller groups.
  • Use keyword tools that do the organization for you, like the Free Keyword Grouper.
  • Schedule in keyword culling along with expansion. Cycle back and remove terms that never catch on.

Worst Practice #2: Waiting for 100% Certainty

There’s a lot you can test in PPC – bids, benefits, calls to action, landing page details like button color and form placement … there are endless variables you can tweak to optimize performance. “Always Be Testing” is a guideline to live by, unless you let all your testing paralyze you!

There are almost always confounding factors in any test – other tests running at the same time, seasonality … changing the call to action in your ad might have made the lines shorter or longer, which could have had an effect instead of or in addition to the actual difference in meaning. How can you ever know for sure?

Performance is relative. You don’t have to achieve perfection or 100% confidence, you just want steady improvement. Don’t move too soon on your tests, but don’t wait forever to close them either – eventually your variables will change, and remember that if you leave tests open after significance has been achieved, you’re just leaving leads on the table for no reason.

Worst Practice #3: Bid to the First Page

You’ve heard this before – by bidding to the first page you’re maximizing clicks! Otherwise your research is going to waste! Nobody clicks to the second page! Etc., etc.

But all “first page bids” are not created equal. Sometimes Google’s estimates are (very) wrong. Take this example:

First page bid estimate

  • The keyword has an average position of 2.2
  • The ad group it’s in has an impression share over 85%
  • We were only paying $7.11 per click
  • The suggested first-page bid was $100.00

Yikes! This one stood out because the suggested bid was so high. But if they’re all a little high that can really add up. What about when your competition is also bidding up to first page automatically? Doesn’t it make a bit more sense to bid to average position?

Here’s what you should do instead:

  • Set your bids to average CPC of related existing keywords in your account
  • Watch closely and adjust accordingly

Below are the slides and full recording of the webinar we did last week. Check them out to see five more “best practices” that are actually worst practices.

And here's the YouTube recording of our presentation:


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professional copywriting
Sep 21, 2012

Because PPC advertising is potentially so cost effective and can reach a very large audience, there is a perception that more is going to be better and bigger. Just as with SEO marketing, if your keyword group isn’t focused, then your brand will be less focused as a result. PPC ads are one of the internet marketing tools that are understood the least by many businesses and the people that do best with them are the ones that view their use as a constant experiment that they monitor carefully.

Alan Mitchell
Sep 25, 2012

I agree that over-expansion of keywords is a common PPC pitfall. Having an extensive long-tail keyword strategy is a great idea, so long as ad messages are targeted and engaging, which is by no means the Also agree with your point on first page estimates - I tend to take these estimates with a pinch of salt!

Richard Fergie
Oct 09, 2012

"If you’re always adding new keywords into your existing ad groups, your Quality Scores are likely suffering as a result"Are you sure about this?

Elisa Gabbert
Oct 09, 2012

Too many keywords per ad group can hurt your Quality Scores, yes. We've seen accounts that literally put all their keywords into a single ad group!

Oct 10, 2012

Yes, also how tight the keywords are themed on a specific ad group has a bearing on the QS.

Jan 31, 2013

It should be "Add New Keywords...", not "Ad New Keywords..." =P

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 31, 2013

Thanks, we fixed it!

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