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7 Areas Where Your PPC Account Is Leaking Money and How to Plug the Leaks

Did you know that small businesses can easily waste as much as 25% of their PPC (pay-per-click) budgets? That’s an awful lot of money being flushed away with nothing to show for it.

The good news is you don’t have to sit, bleary-eyed in front of your computer trying to micromanage every single keyword or bid. By paying attention to these seven leaky holes and taking some proactive steps in managing your PPC account and its features, you can trim a lot of the waste.

First, make note of the holes that need to be plugged, and then, apply the solution in order to fix them.

#1: Paying Too Much for Low-Quality Traffic

I can’t tell you the number of times clients have come to me, clamoring that PPC doesn’t work and that they’re losing money and not getting good leads. A cursory glance at their account tells me everything I need to know in two words: Broad Match.

I understand why they do this. When you’re starting out, and possibly unaccustomed to PPC ad management, you want to cast the keyword net as wide as possible to reel in all of those leads. Who cares if they’re not searching exactly for what you have to offer…maybe once they see your amazing selection or low prices, they’ll change their mind!

Not likely (just look at the chart below to see how broad match can go wrong).


Broad match is Google’s go-to default, which means if you’re just learning the ropes with PPC, it can be tempting to decide that the Big G knows best.  But they don’t, and you’ll have little to show for your efforts if you let them control your ad displays via broad matching. If you’re going to use broad match, bid lower for those keywords instead, and look at how the keywords are used in your search reports.

In the example above, broad match searches focus on black tea of all kinds including organic, leaves, and decaf. But it can also deliver highly untargeted traffic looking for unrelated items which in turn can cost you money.

#2: Tying Search and Display Networks Together

This is another quick click that’s costing you money. Again, by default, Google lets you tie these two together for easier ad management (read: easier money in Google’s pocket). The downside is that search and display networks are two completely different animals.



For example, display ads will show your ad across sites that Google feels would be a good match to what you’re offering based on your site’s own keywords. Unfortunately, lumping this kind of targeting in with search means you’re using the same bait to catch two very different fish. People who find your ad on search may be doing some initial research, whereas those who see your ad on a page relevant to your offer may already be in the comparison or decision-making phase.

Why would you want to use the same ads to target both? It may seem like a quick fix to get a campaign launched quickly, but it can cost you a great deal of your budget while bringing in untargeted users.

#3: No Negative Keywords

It’s rare that a small business will take the time to set up negative keywords in their campaigns, but there are many times when you’d want to.

In a nutshell, negative keywords are needed when someone searches for an item that you carry or offer, but their search may not specifically apply to you. For example, if you’re selling kitten calendars, you don’t want to attract people interested in things like free calendars, printable calendars, or the Mayan calendar.

Negative Keyword Examples


How can you tell which keywords you don’t want as part of your ad campaign displays?

The only way to know for sure is to browse your keyword reports and to see what negative search terms stand out (as explained further in this post on how to create an effective negative keyword list). If there are searches related to items that you carry but perhaps not your specific brand or style, those are prime candidates for adding to your negative keywords list.

#4: Using AdWords Express

AdWords Express is a Google-managed service that lets you set your budget and have Google manage your bids. Sounds great, right? Now you have heaps more free time! Sure, you still get to manage budget and keyword groups as well as location and language-specific ads, but there’s one major caveat: Google gets to determine which keywords are appropriate and relevant.

That means you can see what it’s doing, but you can’t change or edit anything—a major factor in determining how and where your ads are seen. (The image below from Search Engine Watch shows how Adwords Express ads appear in listings.)

AdWords Express


Unless your site is hyper local and thrives on its Google places/maps listing, using Adwords Express could cost you more than what it appears to save you. Essentially, it’s the phone directory of the web, offering you very little flexibility in exchange for controlling your account. If you’re a small business without in-house marketing clout, I strongly suggest you ask a good marketing agency to advise you further.

#5: Enhanced Campaigns

Now, let me clear up some misconceptions right now. I’m not saying that enhanced campaigns are costing you money. When done right, enhanced campaigns are a great way to improve your conversion optimization.

The problem comes when you’re just starting and don’t yet have enough traffic or data to be able to make concrete conversion improvements. Before using enhanced campaigns, make sure that you have some basic conversion data under your PPC belt.


In the case above, a user on their phone downtown around dinner time might be looking for a quick snack or a full carryout dinner, whereas a user at home in the morning might be searching for someplace to go for lunch. Both are searching for pizza, but only the data from enhanced campaigns can tell you the precise details. Although it sounds like an advertiser’s dream come true, knowing what kind of ads convert is vital to getting the most out of these enhanced campaigns.

Building up adequate conversion data will make your enhanced campaigns run far more smoothly and efficiently, while costing you less overall and improving the quality of the leads you get.

#6: Targeted Location

Google’s targeted location display and search ads are actually pretty smart. Yes, people in your local area will see your ads and be able to click on your Google Maps/Places listing (provided you have one). But here’s where it can trip you up: You can also get ad displays from people who are searching about your particular location. They could be planning a vacation or writing a school report and have no interest at all in what you have to offer, and yet your ads will still show.

Location Settings - PPCYou want to make sure the button that’s actually clicked for local settings is targeted to people in your targeted location, rather than the default. Here again is an example where Google’s best use of your budget isn’t always in your best interest.

#7: Watch Your Search Network Performance

If you’re paying for ads on Google, it stands to reason that the majority of your traffic should come from Google, right? Well, if you’re not monitoring your search reports and seeing what traffic search network partners are contributing, you may find that they’re actually the ones doing all the heavy lifting. (In the example below from Search Engine Journal, 50% of the traffic comes from search partners and not Google.)

Google Search Partners

Depending on what keywords you’re targeting, you may be spending a lot of money on impressions from Google’s search network, as opposed to impressions from Google itself. And depending on the type of traffic you’re targeting (search versus display), you might be getting useless, low quality clicks.

Here again, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your, as well as your competitors’ search performance, to see just how much of those ads are being carried on the network partners’ shoulders and how they’re performing compared to your Google search ads.

The Bottom Line on PPC Ad Management

It can be a tricky balance to find the right combination of keywords and budget, but that’s just the beginning. Many small businesses don’t even know they’re losing money with Adwords—they just know they’re not getting as good of an ROI as they should be.

Oftentimes, business owners think the world of PPC management is far too complicated and deep to wade into and simply give up on pay per click ads, which can still be a lucrative source of traffic. The good news is that many of these leaky holes can be plugged from right within your account settings, meaning they can be changed within minutes, not hours or days.

This means that, from the moment you make these changes, you’ll be getting higher quality leads, better conversion and click data, and most importantly, more money back in your pocket. So go ahead and make these changes. I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results!


120x120 Gary VicGary Victory is the go to business analyst at Elite Group Marketing. He works with both startups and multi-national brands focused on business marketing strategies and technology. He is a contributing writer to KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, Social Media Examiner, Elite Group Marketing Blog, and others. Follow him on Twitter @GaryVictoryLDN.