Bad Ads, Worse Ads, and Very, Very Bad Ads: The Worst of PPC


Larry Kim has been sharing a lot of research lately on the traits and features of winning AdWords campaigns, from those with mega-high click-through rates to those with best-of-the-best Quality Scores. In the course of seeking out examples of advertisers doing all the right things, we found many more who are getting it oh-so-wrong.

From dynamic keyword insertion abuse to crappy headlines and nonsensical ad copy, we've seen it all. What follows are a few epic fails I refuse to feel bad about pointing out, because someone really should have caught these by now. Is anyone home on the other end of these campaigns?

Come, marvel at the mistakes, the missteps, the wasted opportunities. We're not just here to poke fun, though; there are important PPC lessons to be learned from each of the bad ads below. You’ve learned from the best, now let’s see what we can learn from the worst. This is your PPC campaign on drugs.

bad ads

Any questions?

Bad Ad Practice #1: Dynamic Keyword Insertion is Your Friend…Unless It's Not

DKI is a really useful feature that allows you to appear as an exact match for a variety of terms by using syntax to tell Google to insert the search term directly into your ad. It can help you achieve higher CTRs, as searchers recognize their exact query in your ad, which strengthens the appearance of a match in intent.

However, like all good things, it can turn very bad if not used properly.  Like this:

Bad Ad Examples

Oops! You should probably look at your AdWords dashboard once in a while and make sure you don't see any ads like this. Better yet, preview your ads so wonky syntax doesn't actually appear in front of your potential customers.

Even when set up correctly, you have to make sure each of your interchangeable terms makes sense within the ad copy. You don't want this to happen:

bad dynamic keyword insertion ad

What on earth is a wall stickers nursery? Is this where sickly, newborn decals go to be nursed back to good health? Need I remind you:

bad grammar in ads

Reminds me of the time eBay told me I could buy babies and perpetual motion machines.

Bad Ad Practice #2: Don't Tell Me Not to Click Your Ad

What is it about this ad that would entice me to click to learn more about what they offer?

really bad ads

So far, all they've told me is that they're cantankerous old meanies who don't like school dances and frown upon prom.

You're supposed to get in front of my subliminal objections and use this space to convince me to just give you a shot. That is better achieved by sharing a little bit about what you do do, as opposed to what you don't. Yes, it can be valuable to qualify your clicks with your copy, but try to stay positive and use the limited space in your ad to explain what you can offer potential customers.

Bad Ad Practice #3: Let Me Guess…It's Called the Mendieta Technique?

Most of this ad is wasted by telling me the same thing 3 times. The URL appears in the headline and right below, while the headline is the same as the business name, which is also the URL. And what the heck even is it? This ad makes my brain hurt.

bad ppc ads

Elisa Gabbert has been preaching great headlines for years and generic headlines are right up there with wasted characters on her list of "Don'ts."

Bad Ad Practice #4: Mispellings [Sic]. Spellcheck Saves Lives!

Here's another advertiser who has committed the cardinal sin of repeating their business name/URL to the point of ridiculousness, but let's forget about that for a minute. We might even be able to overlook the missing period between "seafood" and "Best." Unforgiveable, though, is that they failed to capitalize the name of their city…and also spelled it wrong.

bad google ads

 This is important stuff, guys. You don't want people to think this guy is running your business.

bad ads on google

Image credit: College Humor

Bad Ad Practice #5: Intent Matters in PPC Targeting

Sorry Mazda, but this ad is God-awful simply because it makes no sense for me to see it when I'm looking for brakes for my Ford.

bad adwords ads

When was the last time you went looking for a $35 pair of brake shoes and were convinced to upgrade to a $21,000 car instead? It might have made sense – maybe – if they had targeted "ford focus breaks," but even that is a stretch for gauging intent to purchase a vehicle. Even if you're so big you can afford to throw money away, don't throw money away like this. There's no way this bad ad is getting clicks for this query, so all it's doing is dragging their relevance and probably their QS down.

Bad Ad Practice #6: Don't Bid On Keywords for Items You Don't Actually Sell

Well, this was annoying. I'm super stoked for Walmart's 'Big Brands Event' now that it appeared in front of me while I was searching for a Black & Decker snowblower. Which they don't sell.

Have you ever said something out loud and immediately thought, "Wow…did I really just have to say that? For reals?" That's how I feel about having to tell an e-commerce and real-world business giant like WalMart that they shouldn't pay to advertise things they don't sell.

This ad takes me to a power tools accessories product page with 55 items I wasn't looking for. My intent as a searcher was crystal clear; I'm looking for a specific product. This is not the user experience you should be spending money on.

bad ads

Postscript: After a little digging I found that WalMart actually does sell snowblowers, from their Outdoor Power Tools page. Why didn't they send me there? (This is one of the landing page mistakes that Meg Marrs covered yesterday.)

But Wait, There's More…

They're everywhere. Search for just about anything and you'll see extremely bad ads, whether as a result of neglect, carelessness or simply a lack of knowledge. I can't go into anymore; they're making my brain hurt.

Just make sure these misspelled, lazy, silly, wasteful ads aren't in your own campaigns!

Find out how you're REALLY doing in AdWords!

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Mar 07, 2014

Fantastic article! As an AdWords Partner, I regularly see similar mistakes. Especially with Dynamic Keyword Insertion, which in my opinion, should only be used with Phrase match or Exact Match keywords. And if Broad Match keywords are used, you need to be extra vigilant on adding negative keywords.

Miranda Miller
Mar 07, 2014

Thanks Mel, it's so true. I was surprised when WordStream's fall 2013 SMB PPC research at how many advertisers aren't using negative keywords at all, let alone properly. 1 in 4 rely on broad match alone and 1 in 5 aren't using negative keywords at all.  It's a big opportunity for those who take the time.

Jeff Baum
Mar 07, 2014

Brilliant article!I learned more about ad writing in this article than reading 100 articles telling me how to correctly write an ad.

Miranda Miller
Mar 07, 2014

Thanks Jeff, glad you enjoyed it!

Feb 19, 2017

Hi there, I want to subscribe for this website to get latest updates, thus where can i do
it please help out.

Kate Hudson
Mar 10, 2014

The whole post makes a lot of sense, useful tip indeed. But then the last point- does the person not have clarity first on what he isselling before a keyword insertion is made?

Miranda Miller
Mar 11, 2014

Hi Kate,You mean the walmart example? I think this is more a case of failing to use negative keywords than DKI. It's a bad user experience to click on an ad that's appeared in one of the top positions for something they don't sell and it costs the brand money. They can prevent this by using negative keywords to prevent their ads from appearing in searches for things they don't sell.  So in this case, it might take 10 minutes for someone to figure out which Black&Decker products they don't carry and add those negatives to avoid wasted spend on them. 

Mar 21, 2014

All the Bad Ad Practice are interesting, specially #3 & #4 but are these practices has any negative impact on positioning ?

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 21, 2014

Kory, anything that lowers your CTR can lower you Quality Score, which can hurt your ad position. You can make up for it but only by paying more per click!

Apr 08, 2014

nice post

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