HomeBlogPPC Worst Practices: 5 "Smart" Strategies That Are Actually Dumb

PPC Worst Practices: 5 "Smart" Strategies That Are Actually Dumb

Author: Erin Sagin
Last Updated: November 22, 2021 | Paid Search Marketing

As digital marketers, we have the *pleasure* of being part of an ever-changing industry. Consider Google AdWords, which has changed drastically since its inception back in 2000. It started out as an internal service, eventually became a self-service portal and has evolved rapidly from there. As paid search platforms become more complex and sophisticated, it’s critical that account managers remain flexible and adjust their strategies to match these changes. But I can’t tell you how frequently I encounter advertisers who are dead-set in their outdated ways, which drives me completely insane.

So, here’s my list of the top five outdated “best practices” that you should eliminate from your PPC repertoire immediately.

Worst Practice #1: Stuffing your account with every keyword under the sun

Back in the day, it was trendy to build expansive accounts with a gazillion keyword variations. I actually remember one of my first tasks when I started at WordStream was to create a list of long-tail keywords for a cosmetics site. I spent hours dreaming up makeup-related keywords and when I finally submitted my list, my co-worker sent it back to me asking for permutations of EVERY SINGLE TERM. New to this whole shebang, I spent nearly two days developing a keyword list for only a few ad groups. It was so painful that haven’t shopped online for makeup since.

Nowadays, keyword-heavy strategies on the Search Network are becoming extinct. Since the rollout of mandatory close variant keyword matching, we no longer have to obsess over adding every permutation, misspelling, plural and singular version of the keywords in our account. In fact, in doing so, we may actually be putting ourselves at risk. If you have a number of extraneous keywords, it’s likely that many of the low search volume terms are suffering from poor Quality Scores. These can negatively impact the scores assigned to new keywords in your account, making it even harder to achieve good scores in the future. Moreover, if your account is cluttered with zillions of keywords, it can be challenging to manage it effectively.

too many keywords in adwords

Our founder, Larry Kim, encourages advertisers to delete the bottom third keywords in their accounts (that are NOT converting) and re-deploy that portion of spend to a more fruitful strategy like remarketing, which brings me to my next point…

The industry is shifting away from keyword-based strategies altogether. More and more advertisers are dedicating significant budgets to networks using identity-based targeting. For example, through paid Facebook ads, you can market to an audience that fits very specific criteria. These settings range anywhere from basic demographic/geographic/interest-based categories to custom lists (based on prospect information that you already have). Here’s an example—last week, I got the (somewhat bizarre) ad below while I was perusing Facebook.

identity based targeting

At first, I was like, why the heck is Facebook encouraging me to attend an EGG FREEZING PARTY?! And then I realized, the platform knows I’m single, I live in Boston and at 27, I fall right into the “baby fever” age group. Boom. This advertiser hit their perfect target. Pretty savvy, huh? As these methods continue to become more sophisticated, I predict that they’ll become even more widely used.

Worst Practice #2: Using DKI for all ad groups

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not suggesting that Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) is a bad technique, but it should never be your go-to method for creating ad text. DKI is a fundamentally lazy approach to ad copy. When you’re pressed for time and looking to bang out some halfway decent ads, DKI is a temporary, quick-and-dirty solution. However, it can introduce quite a few problems in your account. For example, if you are bidding on misspelled keywords, you could end up with disastrous, sloppy looking ads. Or, if you’re bidding on your competitors’ branded terms, you could end up with a nasty disapproval (or lawsuit, god forbid).

dynamic keyword mistakes

The reality is, you may see decent performance for DKI ads, but they will never be your superstars. You’re much better off taking the time to create tightly knit, granular ad groups centered on distinct keyword themes. This enables you craft highly relevant ads that are guaranteed to be a good fit, regardless of the keyword match.

ad modifiers

If you’re attached to DKI because you love the idea of automated customizations, let me introduce you to the new “DKI on steroids,” ad customizers. These scripts give you the ability to tailor your ads based on sophisticated custom attributes, such as product brand and model, pricing and even a countdown functionality urging users to make a purchase sooner than later. Layering this on top of well-crafted ads is a true slam dunk for advertisers.

Worst Practice #3: Using the same strategy on domestic and international campaigns

Oftentimes, when companies are ready to expand their marketing to international markets, they assume that whatever works in their current account will generate similar performance abroad.

au contraire

What’s worse is their inclination is to dump their account into Google Translate and bid on whatever it spits out. This is PPC seppuku! Google Translate may suffice for basic translations, but it neglects to account for regional nuances. Mistranslated keywords can result in little to no traffic or worse — unqualified traffic – making a mockery of your PPC efforts.

Moreover, when targeting a different audience, it is critical to take cultural trends into account. For example, Americans tend to be attracted to bargains, so we commonly highlight deals and discounts in our ad copy to encourage high CTRs. This tactic would actually negatively impact CTRs in Switzerland, where consumers prioritize quality and are more likely to click on ads offering high-end, luxury items.

Given these cultural diversities, it’s critical to design campaigns that are catered toward your target marketplace. If you’re looking for guidance with this, I highly recommend checking out Katy Tonkin and Michael Stricker’s recent presentation on International PPC from HeroConf, which breaks down cultural marketing trends by location.

Worst Practice #4: Focusing all efforts on Google’s Search Network

The Google Search Network is a wise place for advertisers to launch their initial PPC efforts, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of the PPC universe. In fact, if you’re solely targeting searchers on Google, you’re likely missing out on tons of opportunity.

The number one reason advertisers are hesitant to break out of this space is because they’re unsure of which avenue to pursue next. Don’t be paralyzed by choice, embrace it! Here’s a breakdown of some of your top options:

  • Bing Ads Search: Bing Ads is easy to experiment with because it follows a nearly identical format to AdWords’ search marketing. In fact, you can even go as far as to import your AdWords account into Bing and adjust it from there. On Bing, you can expect less volume, but cheaper CPCs. (Here are a few more advantages that Bing Ads has over AdWords.)
  • Google Shopping: If you are an e-commerce advertiser, you should be running Shopping campaigns, which allow you to display images of your products on the SERP. While setting up and maintaining your feed can be an onerous task, the results are typically stellar.
  • Remarketing: I’ll be honest, I think remarketing is one of the most genius things you can do with digital marketing. It allows you to launch ad campaigns targeted to those who have visited your site in the past and therefore are more likely to engage with you. It works well for a wide variety of businesses and is easy to set up. (Just don’t make these remarketing mistakes.)
  • Google Display Network: The expansiveness of this network alone is appealing—it reaches nearly 90% of online users and nearly 2 million sites. This makes it a great venue to pursue a more passive, top of the funnel audience and promote your brand.
  • Paid Social (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn): Paid social advertising is becoming an increasingly popular way to build brand awareness and entice users to your site. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this channel is that you can layer in sophisticated targeting to reach your most ideal audience.
  • Yandex/Baidu/Seznam/Daum/360/Sogou/Yahoo! Japan: Living in a Google-obsessed country, it’s easy to forget that the Goog isn’t actually the top dog in other countries. If you are focused on foreign markets, it’s critical to understand the user behavior in those zones and adjust your strategy accordingly. The engines listed above are some of the most popular engines in Asia and Europe.

Worst Practice #5: Basing account management decisions solely on Quality Score data

Before I give Larry Kim (our Quality Score obsessed founder) a heart attack, let me quickly point out that I don’t want to downplay QS completely. It IS an important metric to keep an eye on, and the savings associated with higher scores are palpable. However, when optimizing an account, I believe that managers should first consult more concrete data, such as conversion rates, CPA, etc.

quality score isn't everything

It’s important to remember that Quality Score assignments are somewhat subjective. It’s Google’s way of incenting advertisers to create customer-centric experiences free of spammy, irrelevant ads and landing pages. So, if you have a history of poor performance, even new keywords will start with low scores. We’ve even noticed that certain industries have lower average QS than others. My point is, just because a keyword has a low Quality Score doesn’t mean it’s necessarily yielding a low number of conversions (and vice versa). So, you should never look solely at QS when making big decisions.

Instead, Quality Score should be used as a secondary, “health-check” metric. I like to think of it as an indicator of which keywords need a little extra attention. For example, if you have a keyword with a low Quality Score, it may be worthwhile to assign it to a new, more targeted ad group with more catered ad text and relevant landing pages. By making changes to strive for better scores, you are cutting costs and taking action to improve your searchers’ experience—a win-win.

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Meet The Author

Erin Sagin

Erin Sagin worked at WordStream for five years with roles in Customer Success and Marketing. She lives in California.


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