The Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid With Google Ads

The Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid With Google Ads

Ed Goss is the owner and Managing Director of Ten Thousand Foot View, a search marketing agency based in Toronto, Canada. He’s here to tell you how to avoid costly mistakes in Google ads.

I've been working in marketing for over 25 years and have specialized in Google Ads for the past decade. Over this time I have seen just about every mistake in the book. In this article I'm going to run down the 5 biggest mistakes I see advertisers make with Google Ads. Furthermore, I'm going to explain how to fix them.

1. Using the Wrong Bidding Method

Choosing the wrong bidding option can destroy any chance for success with Google Ads. More often than not I see advertisers using manual or max clicks bidding when they should be using an automated conversion action based option.

Assuming you are interested in conversions, including most paid search advertisers, you should be using ECPC, or Smart Bidding based on conversions. Whether to go with ECPC or fully automated should be driven by the typical number of monthly conversions you get or expect to get. If the number is greater than 25, go for the automated solution.

As for which of the 4 automated options to choose, that's relatively easy:

  • Maximize Conversions - get as many conversions as possible while spending your entire budget
  • Maximize Conversions with tCPA - generate conversions at around your target cost per action, spending may be less than your budget
  • Maximize Conversion Value - generate as much revenue as possible while spending your entire budget
  • Maximize Conversion Value with tROAS - generate conversions at around your target return on ad spend, spending may be less than your budget.

2. Not Using Ad Extensions

In my personal experience, I'd estimate that about 30% of accounts we audit are not using ad extensions at all. Another 20% or so are using extensions, but not implementing them fully or correctly.

Just because you've thoughtfully developed your RSAs (Responsive Search Ads) with loads of headlines and descriptions doesn't mean you're done with creatives. You should think of extensions as additional ad components that are just as important as your primary ad copy.

Put simply, extensions are useful for driving higher click-through rates, prequalifying users, sending them to the most appropriate page of your site, and boosting your conversions. Here's a very brief guide on the most popular and important extension types.

  • Location Extension - Do you sell locally or do you have foreign competitors? Activate!
  • Call Extension - If you accept inbound leads or phoned-in orders you should absolutely use call extensions. Not only will it drive incremental conversions, but can also boost trust in your brand.
  • Sitelinks - These make your ads much larger visually which tends to boost CTRs. They can also direct users to the most relevant landing pages based on what products they're interested in or where they are in the funnel.
  • Callouts - Every advertiser should be using callouts. This is where you add key selling points that you couldn't fit into your ads. Use a bunch and rotate out low performing ones.
  • Image - Boost the relevance of your ads and CTR by displaying a thumbnail in your search ads. Why wouldn't you do this?
  • Promo - If you run sales this is a must-have to highlight those sales and route users directly to those offers.
  • Others - Most of the remaining extensions are for speciality applications or less useful than those above. You should always review each and every option and apply all of those that make sense for your campaign.

3. Failing to Optimize Merchant Center

Google's Smart Shopping and Performance-Max for Shopping campaigns are black box solutions that allow advertisers very little control when it comes to optimization. Outside of designing your feed with well-designed titles, descriptions, and images, there's not much you can do in Google Ads but set your tROAS and cross your fingers.

But what I see so often, is that advertisers do not take advantage of any optimizations afforded them by Merchant Center.

If you're not using promotions, product ratings, or automatic improvements, you're leaving money on the table. Furthermore, it's super easy to automatically format your titles to show the key elements that trigger for the right search queries and drive more clicks & conversions.

4. Having no Idea About the Value of Their Customers

When I ask new clients what their tROAS or tCPA is they will either be stimied or give me a number. When I am given a number my follow-up question is "how did you arrive at that?" What follows, more often than not, is either nonsensical or a methodology that doesn't align with real business goals.

Here are a couple of quick examples.

Subscription box

A client of ours sells a subscription box for pets. A subscription goes for between $40 - $100 per month. When asked what a solid tROAS would be the client said 200% so they could at least get 2x their return from the campaign. Then he took that back and said, let's go for 225% so I can also cover your fees. He then backed that up by saying I really need to make more margin than that but I know my market is very competitive and it'll take time before we can command a larger ROAS as we're new in the market.

Wow! There are so many things wrong with all of this. First, how many months is your average subscriber going to stick around for? If the answer is 1-year, that initial order from Google Ads is going to end up driving in 2700% ROAS. Second, successful shops usually lower their tROAS over time reflecting an increase in customer retention, having a better understanding of client lifetime value, and building a marketing flywheel.

That said, cash flow can restrict what's affordable upfront as a client acquisition strategy. After a good discussion, we ended up at 100% ROAS as a starting point.

Note, also, that Google now offers a way to increase your bids for potential new customers in shopping campaigns. If your main goal is new client acquisition this is a no-brainer.

A legal firm prospect was aiming for a CPA of $25 when they approached us. They complained of either blowing through huge budgets with very high CPAs or simply not being able to spend at all at that target.

They already knew their average value per client was $4,500, and they closed 20% of their PPC leads. That means each lead is worth $900. the CPA goal was simply out to lunch. After doing some other calculations to account for expenses we settled on a tCPA of $100 and campaign profits soared.

5. Campaign Bloat

This issue comes up mainly in older accounts but we do sometimes see it in new accounts too.

In the nutshell, the problem occurs when accounts are over-designed with too many campaigns, ad groups, ads, or keywords relative to the available budget. When you run your account like this your budget is spread so thin that it may take months to gather any actionable conversion data. In the meantime, you keep spending on low performing ads and keywords with very little optimization happening.

There are a couple of easy solutions to this issue. The first one is the easiest but the road that's far less taken. Raising your budget so that you can drive more clicks and conversions will help you fast-track optimization to identify winning tactics and kill off everything that's holding you back.

The second option is far more palatable for most small advertisers. Get out a big knife and start cutting. This has the inherent risk of cutting some things that may be working, but an experienced PPC manager can usually identify the low-hanging fruit.

Here's how to quickly cut stuff you don't need:

  • Pause all campaigns, ad groups, ads, and keywords that haven't received any ad impressions in the past 30-days
  • Review conversion performance, kill anything that is substantially below average; statistical significance is important here
  • Review ad groups and remove all but your one best performing responsive ad
  • Consider pausing broad match keywords and focus on phrase/exact match so you can distribute spending more evenly; you can reactive broad match if/when you are ready to scale up
  • Take a deep dive into your search term reports and add negatives to cut wasted ad spend on irrelevant queries
  • Consider reducing your geo-targeted area if you sell locally, e.g. remove named locations that are far from your office or typically perform poorly
  • If you've paused campaigns, redistribute that budget to the remaining campaigns

This should help you get on track pretty quickly.


Google Ads and paid search marketing, in particular, can be a profit-generating machine for almost any business. But failing to implement campaigns effectively can spell disaster and money poured down the drain. Avoiding the 5 mistakes above will go a long way to helping you build and run winning campaigns.

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