Watch those Google Adwords campaigns

I was recent­ly work­ing with a client who has a large Google Adwords cam­paign, with an annu­al ad bud­get in the low six fig­ures. He’s been very care­ful about the key­words he’s cho­sen and we’ve both poured over the Google Ana­lyt­ics fig­ures to see how the cam­paign pro­gressed.

It took a third par­ty key­word track­ing sys­tem to dis­cov­er that many of the ads were being served up to wrong key­words in the Google search­es. I want to keep the client’s iden­ti­ty pri­vate, so let me use an anal­o­gy: say you’re a boomerang mak­er and you’ve bought a cam­paign intend­ing ads to show up for those who search “boomerang” in Google. What we dis­cov­ered is that Google was serv­ing up a large per­cent­age of these ads for searchers of “fris­bees” — close, but not close enough for searchers to care. Few peo­ple clicked on the mis­placed ad. We’re talk­ing seri­ous mon­ey wast­ed on ads served up to the wrong tar­get audi­ence.

How did a care­ful­ly con­struct­ed ad cam­paign get on so many poorly-targeted search­es? Google allows fuzzy match­ing under their broad match guide­lines:

For exam­ple, if you’re cur­rent­ly run­ning ads on the broad-matched key­word web host­ing, your ads may show for the search queries web host­ing com­pa­ny or web­host. The key­word vari­a­tions that are allowed to trig­ger your ads will change over time, as the AdWords sys­tem con­tin­u­al­ly mon­i­tors your key­word qual­i­ty and per­for­mance fac­tors. Your ads will only con­tin­ue show­ing on the highest-performing and most rel­e­vant key­word vari­a­tions.

You can dis­able these broad search­es using neg­a­tive key­words (i.e., “-fris­bee”) and with spe­cif­ic key­words (“boomerang”).

But Google does not make it easy to see just where your ads are going. You have to set up a spe­cial Search query per­for­mance report. It’s real­ly essen­tial that any­one doing a large Google Ad cam­paign set up one of these search­es and have it auto­mat­i­cal­ly emailed to them every month. Google clear­ly wasn’t track­ing the “per­for­mance” of its broad search on this client’s ad. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­turbed that we didn’t see these mis­di­rect­ed key­words list­ed in the Google Ana­lyt­ics track­ing reports. It is dan­ger­ous to use the same com­pa­ny to both sell you a ser­vice and to report how well it’s been doing.

Cred­it where it’s due: it was the excel­lent long-tail blog con­tent ser­vice Hit­tail that gave us the infor­ma­tion that Google was mis­di­rect­ing its ads. See my pre­vi­ous Hit­tail cov­er­age.

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