Articles > Conversion Optimization, Digital Advertising AdWords Management – When to Just Say No to Google

As an SEM practitioner, I am a self-proclaimed fan of Google AdWords.  I love the ease of their platform, I love the depth of their reporting, I love our dedicated Google agency team and I especially love the ROI that Google AdWords drives for our clients.   To be honest, Adwords management is a dream compared to the other major PPC engines.

But while there are many things to praise Google for, I’m not totally naive.  Google is a business.  A BIG business.  One that needs to continue to make money and grow in order to appease stakeholders and further secure their dominance.

As a result, Google doles out some advice to its advertisers that is questionable at times.  Not to mention, some of their account defaults make it all-too-easy to run a less-than-optimal campaign if you are a newbie to the game.  In short, not everything that Google puts out there is in the interest of the advertiser.

Here are four examples of when you should think twice about blindly following Google’s defaults and advice:

“Optimizing” Ads to CTR (Google revenue), rather than conversion (your revenue)

When setting up a Google account there is an option to ‘Optimize’ your ads or to ‘Rotate’ your ads.  Upon first thought, you might think that ‘optimize’ sure does sound nice.  And hey, it has already been chosen for you by default so why argue?  Google states that this will simply allow you to ‘show better performing ads more often’.  They even explicitly state it is ‘Recommended’.

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In actuality, if you are an advertiser whose primary goal is to maximize conversion (sales, leads, etc) then the ‘Optimize’ default is not for you.  Why?  Because ‘optimize’ by Google’s definition means serving the ads that have the highest click-through rate (CTR), NOT the highest conversion rate.

Why would Google push for ads that have the highest click-through rate?  Well, at least partially because ads that get more clicks produce more revenue for Google.  Google will also make the point that ads with a higher CTR are more relevant and therefore provide a better user experience.  But it’s hard to completely ignore the Google revenue incentive.

Setup isn’t the only instance in which Google hits you up to ‘optimize’ to CTR.  In the past couple of months, Google has even gone so far as issuing this alert in advertisers’ accounts, once again urging people to ‘optimize ad serving’.

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Hey Google – stop being pushers!  If we already changed this from the default setting once, then it was probably a conscious strategic decision the first time around.  We are trying to optimize to the metrics that are important to our business – please stop trying to convince us otherwise.

Broad Matching in order to “show on similar phrases and relevant variations”

Okay, I know that I am starting to sound like a broken record on this whole broad match issue.  But seriously… time and time again when we audit PPC campaigns, the top culprit behind wasted spend is unmonitored, rampant broad matching.

Broad match happens to be the default match type for all keywords.  As a result, many advertisers don’t even know they are using it.  Yes, the onus of this mistake falls largely on advertisers for overlooking this.  Still, Google isn’t helping the situation with their loosely defined parameters and lack of controls for Broad Match (i.e. no option to opt out of expanded broad match).

Here is how Google describes Broad Match:

With broad match, the Google AdWords system automatically runs your ads on relevant variations of your keywords, even if these terms aren’t in your keyword lists. Keyword variations can include synonyms, singular/plural forms, relevant variants of your keywords, and phrases containing your keywords.

And its benefits:

One of the primary benefits of broad match is that it helps you attract more traffic to your website. In addition, broad match saves you time when constructing your campaigns, lets you take advantage of global search trends, and is cost-effective.

In fairness, the above benefits are true if Broad Match is properly used in conjunction with Phrase and Exact match types and monitored closely for quality of traffic.  My qualms, however, are with the blanket use of ‘relevant’ and ‘cost-effective’.  Some examples we have seen in recent AdWords management audits –

Certainly not always ‘relevant’:

  • Wedding albums keywords broad matching to ‘wedding photographer’
  • Personal injury attorney terms broad matching to ‘pro bono attorney’
  • Printing supply terms broad matching to ‘desks’
  • Digital camera terms broad matching to ‘babe cams’ (not just a relevancy issue, but also a branding nightmare)
  • Kids cell phone terms broad matching to ‘sexy cell phones’ (ditto)

And certainly not always ‘cost effective’:

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Capturing “additional relevant search queries” via Automatic Matching

Yikes!  Google took Broad Match a step further this past year when they enabled automatic matching across many advertisers’ accounts.  Even worse, it was an opt-out situation, rather than an opt-in.  Messages like this just showed up in our accounts one day:

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Per Google:

Automatic matching uses your surplus budget to help your ads reach targeted traffic that’s been missed by your keywords. It works by analyzing the landing pages, ads, and keywords in your ad group. It then shows your ads on search queries relevant to this information.

The obvious concern here is the statement that this helps you reach ‘targeted traffic’.  I have yet to hear of any advertisers who have reported this to be true.

Automatic Matching seems an awful lot like a cash grab to me and one of the more disappointing moves that Google has made in recent years.

Using Dynamic Keyword Insertion to “provide users with more relevant ad text”

Up front I should say that I haven’t heard of Google actively promoting Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI), nor is it a default.  However, many clients we’ve talked with are under the impression that DKI is a Google-touted ‘best practice’.  Perhaps part of this misperception comes from Google’s Help section which describes the benefits of DKI as providing “users with more relevant ad text while using a single generic ad for multiple keywords”.

Wait…  did Google just say ‘generic’?!  Aren’t ‘generic ads for multiple keywords’ at odds with the principles behind Quality Scoring? Doesn’t improving quality entail being granular and well-differentiated – not ‘generic’?

Yes, DKI can be a time-saver and sometimes even a necessary evil of sorts if you’re running a monster e-commerce campaign.  However, if not used properly it can result in dull non-differentiated ads, impulsive unqualified clicks and some good laughs:

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Source: Find Me Faster, Implementing Dynamic Keyword Insertion in a Quality Score World, SMX Advanced 2007

Make it Work

love-hate-vsmSo here’s the thing…  despite the above complaints my point is not that Google is evil.  Google still does more than any other PPC platform when it comes to providing robust reporting tools, powerful ROI controls and better visibility into what is working and what is not.

Furthermore, each and every issue described above can be remedied if you know what you are doing.

Want to optimize to conversion instead of CTR?  No problem, simply ignore Google’s advice no matter how persistently they try to convince you otherwise.

Want to use broad match intelligently? Yep, you can do that.  Create a robust negative list, use broad match in conjunction with other match types and refine over time by mining your Search Query Performance Reports.

Think automatic matching is a waste?  Join the crowd.  Turn it off like most of us did.

Find it debatable that single generic DKI ads are going to provide more relevance to searchers?  Then take the time to customize your ads with well-differentiated, static copy that is tailored to each ad group.

In short, make it work… Learn the ins and outs and nitty-gritty details of PPC management — and realize that PPC 101 will not suffice.  A deep, thorough understanding of AdWords management will allow you to make better educated, strategic decisions that are in your best interest, not Google’s.