While learning how to effectively manage a paid search advertising campaign can take quite a bit of time, there are plenty of quick and easy ways to increase your chances at success. This article aims to outline five common mistakes that end up keeping small businesses and in-house marketers from maximizing the potential of their pay per click campaigns.

Mistake #1 - Ego Bidding

I've seen this mistake happen in companies as small as a single person on up to companies big enough to make the Fortune 100 list. Any time you have someone concerned with showing off their new search campaign to their buddies, you're likely to run into this problem.

What it is: Someone in a power position decides they simply must rank number one for phrase x, y and/or z. Generally this becomes more about the person in power wanting the satisfaction of running a search and seeing their ad than anything else.

Why it's bad: Eight times out of ten, the phrases the power player wants to rank for are highly competitive and very general. (i.e. high cost and low conversion) One time out of ten, the phrase they want to rank for is some type of "corporate speak" for "proprietary technology" that no one except your company's own employees use to describe your product.

The biggest problem here is that bidding on (and maintaining) the top position for these keywords can use up a lot of time and money that should be invested in the terms proven to make the company money. In fact, trying to maintain a top position on a high-cost, low-conversion keyword can cause a company to burn through their paid search budget so quickly, the power maker ends up deciding paid search "doesn't work" and simply cancels the program.

How to solve it: In general, the only way to overcome ego bidding is to carefully track results and to show the power player just how poorly those phrases deliver. While it's easy to get sucked into wanting to see your business name at the top of the results for all your favorite phrases, nothing serves up a dose of reality like seeing exactly how much it's costing and how little impact it's having.

Mistake #2 - One Ad, Many Keywords

This is a common mistake for those who are new to paid search advertising. It's an easy one to fall into, but it's also a fairly easy one to dig out of.

What it is: The person who sets up the paid search campaign writes a default ad with generic style text promoting an entire line of products or services. They then add keyword after keyword to a single ad group without any regard to how targeted the ad text is.

Why it's bad: This mistake actually causes several different problems.

First, it leaves you with non-targeted ads. Both users and search engines are looking for ads that match up with the keyword query that was conducted.

Second, it will cost you extra money. Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft will charge you a lower cost per click if the keywords you are bidding on show up in your ad. Run an untargeted ad and your cost per click can skyrocket.

Third, it "hides" your ad on the search results. As part of their reward for having a relevant ad listing, most engines will bold the keywords on the search results page which will help draw a searcher's eye to your listing.

How to solve it: Work your way through all of the keywords and phrases in your account and sort them into related groups. Take the time to write at least one new ad for each group integrating the keyword that ties all those words together.

Mistake #3 - Focusing on Budget Instead of ROI

This one tends to pop up when you take a small business in-house marketer and introduce them to the world of pay per click advertising. It's a natural mistake to make, since small businesses are nearly always focused on how much money goes out the door.

What it is: The person in charge of your paid search campaign views the budget as another line item on a marketing report. They set aside a certain number of dollars and plan to spend exactly that amount each year.

Why it's bad: Paid search campaigns aren't like other types of marketing. Unlike newspaper ads, billboards, local TV spots and Yellow Page ads, paid search ads have a lot of potential for detailed tracking and ROI analysis. When you focus on what you are spending instead of what that investment is earning you, you fail to take advantage of the best thing about paid search advertising. In fact, focusing on your spending often results in companies ignoring ROI which means money down the drain.

How to solve it: Once you get the hang of things, you may find you don't need to lock yourself into a specific budget. If you can't reasonably spend amount x each year because there simply isn't enough good inventory, don't spend it. On the flip side, if you know you earn two pennies for every penny you spend on paid search, don't limit yourself to a an arbitrary amount that leaves customers and profit on the table.

Mistake #4 - Sending All Traffic to One Page

Small business owners and old school marketers are used to focusing on the message rather than where someone might end up after viewing that message. That makes mistake #4 more of an oversight than anything else.

What it is: The person managing your pay per click account sets up your campaign so every ad and every keyword send the visitor to the exact same page. (usually, the home page.)

Why it's bad: As with mistake #2, there's something to be said for relevancy. Microsoft and Google both look at an ad's landing page as part of their determination of what an ad will cost per click. If the landing page doesn't match up with the keywords from a user's search, the cost per click needed to rank well goes up.

Even worse, untargeted landing pages can destroy the chance of a good conversion rate. Searchers are an impatient lot. If you force them to find their way to their destination instead of delivering them straight to the good stuff, chances are high they'll be searching for the back button and heading off to visit a competition.

How to solve it: While tailored landing pages are best, they certainly aren't necessary to see an improvement in your bottom line. If you simply go in and adjust your campaign to send every visitor to the most relevant page that already exists on your site, you'll still see a dramatic improvement in your conversion rates.

Mistake #5 - Not Separating Content from Search

Another common "accidental mistake," number five comes about more from lack of understanding of how search engines publish paid search ads than anything else. In fact, even the businesses that manage to avoid the first four mistakes often fall prey to this one.

What it is: Most search engines distribute their paid search ads across a wide range of partner sites. These sites generally get split between the "search network" (sites where the ads show after someone runs a search for a keyword or keyword phrase) and the "content network" (sites where ads are placed onto content pages based on a search engine's estimate of what the page is about. In general, your ads will run on both networks by default.

Why it's bad: One of the reasons paid search ads work so well is because it puts an ad in front of someone who is already searching for what you have to offer. You're basically stepping up to the customer in their time of need and saying "hello, I have what you're looking for." When it comes to the content network, ads are tossed in alongside content deemed relevant by a computer. In this instance, it's more like advertising in a targeted magazine. You're shouting your message at someone who might be interested but is probably going to ignore you.

That isn't to say those content ads won't send you traffic. They will. Unfortunately, they'll probably send you quite a bit of traffic from casual surfers who browse their way through sites without spending a dime.

As a general rule of thumb, traffic from the content network of a paid search engine will convert at a fraction of the rate of traffic from the search network. That means running your ads on both networks can be a great way to burn through your money with little to show in return.

How to solve it: If you've still new to paid search advertising, your best bet is to simply turn off the context network on each of your accounts. Until you've learned how to maximize your ROI on the search network, there's little sense in wasting money in the contextual arena.

Once you are ready to expand into the content network, go slowly. Most engines allow you to specify which sites you'll allow your ads to run on. Carefully select targeted sites and cut them loose if they don't perform well. It's also essential to tailor your bid to the content network. Since even good content network campaigns tend to convert at lower rates, it's unlikely you'll be able to bid as much as you do on the search network.

Clean Up Your Act in Five Days

When you think about it, none of these problems takes long to fix. Even if you find yourself making all five of these mistakes, you can likely get your account straightened out in about a week. Simply set aside five days (in a row or over the course of a few weeks) and work on one issue each day. Prioritize the order in which you tackle them based on how much money each area seems to be costing you.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

November 6, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


This is an awesome article. I remember I used to make many of these same mistakes when I first started.

#6 Not targeting your ad content. Targeting ads improves your CTR. This makes Google happy, and you'll pay lower rates on bids.

Dealing with #3, Focusing on Budget Instead of ROI, is the one I have the hardest time getting some of my clients to understand.

Good info, thanks Jennifer

Absolutely brilliant. Most people, myself included, have done this wide net approach to a objective that should be sharply focused.

What I appreciated about this article is that is doesn't generalize. It says whats wrong, why and how to repair it. Brilliant

Great stuff! Things I've had to learn the hard way. I wish I'd read this one before I got into this line of work.

There is one use I see for a content network. If your client is offering something that is new, shoppers aren't searching for it. However, if you can get an ad on related sites, you may be able to "educate" people and bring them into your client's store.

For instance; I have a client that sells a "boaters club" membership for people needing do-it-yourself technical help and discounts on marine products. No one is doing this, so no one is looking for it. We plan to run an ad aimed more at AdSense exposure than for the SERPs.

Where else can you get that amount of advertising exposure so inexpensively?

I'm sooo glad to find this article..

I'm rather new at this advertising campaign thing and reading your article has shown me that I need to do a lot of improvements.

Don't want to sink anymore and lost more money :)
There surelly will be a lot of saving because of this.

Thank you.

J.C. Carvill
Email: support@cosmosing.com
URL: http://www.cosmosing.com/jeanclaudecarvill/index.php

It is also important to mention for the 5th Mistake that Content Networking keywords should be place in it's own campaign. Not combine in the search term campaign. So 2 different campaign. Really, you need 3 campaign. One for Geo Targeting, Location specific and Content Networking campaign.

Very good posting. I agree to what you have to say 100%. I personally also believe, Content Distribution is by far the worst distribution tactic that these engines have come up with. I am yet to hear one person say content distribution actually worked for them.

Another thing you might want to consider is creating dynamic landing pages. You could keep the skin and the basic template the same, just have content populate based in the keyword/ad copy. This helps in improving your CTR and also bringing down your CPC as engines see it as a more relevant page.

I have a couple of examples on my blog that talk about different account structures that can be used to do this and also help test various things to improve your ROI.

I would also like to add - if your account is considerably old or an extremely data intensive one depending on the product you sell, make it habit to conduct an account cleaning analysis once every quarter at least i.e. generate your ROI report and identify keywords that have not converted at all and have always lost money - you will be surprised how much you end up saving next quarter - always follow the 80-20 rule.

Very informative article. Good reading for a person like me, that is trying to get my website off and running!!


Thanks for the valuable information, this one will definitely be useful in affiliate marketing, since I'm just a beginner in the area

I fully understand ego building, its one of the main reason why most affiliate marketers failed to achieve their goals, its better to start with keywords that has normal rates and after fully optimizing for a certain keyword we can jump down to much harder keywords.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Five Common Paid Search Mistakes That Can Sink Your Campaign