October 1, 2015

PPC Cardinal Sin Countdown: The 5 Most Common Ways to Waste Money on AdWords

I have seen a lot of PPC campaigns over the last few years and it is always quite astonishing to see the same mistakes over and over again.

Interestingly, it’s not just the ‘one person start up’ working out of their spare room or the plumber next door who are running their own campaigns making these mistakes; I have seen some of the biggest agencies in the country (both UK and Australia) making the same novice mistakes. And the most surprising thing of all is that this is occurring more and more frequently even though there are thousands of resources out there saying the same thing – these practices are going to waste your money and ultimately lead to you believing that online advertising doesn’t work for your industry.

Well I can tell you that online advertising can work if you do it correctly, pay attention to the data, and don’t waste your money by ignoring the following five things:

The Cardinal Sin Countdown

CARDINAL PPC SIN #5: Not looking at time of the day and day of the week conversion rates

Changing when you appear on AdWords can dramatically affect your CPA and ROI.Alpha Digital Example Images

For example if you are a B2B company it makes very little sense for you to be appearing over the weekend. This is because in general businesses are not going to be looking for your product over the weekend and even if they are, it tends to be browsing as opposed to actual intent to purchase.


This can gradually begin to increase your CPA and reduce ROI.

The same can be said for the hours between midnight and 6am. The ‘witching hour’ bidding is not always profitable and after reviewing the data from countless accounts the majority of the time it is not worthwhile. Advertising during the early hours of the morning generally just ends up wasting half your budget before the day has even fully begun.

The key here is ensuring you are making use of all the data available to make informed decisions and make the most of your budget!

CARDINAL PPC SIN #4: Not structuring your campaigns correctly

The most important part of any AdWords account is the structure and ensuring that the account is as granular as possible.

If this means having one keyword per Ad Group, then that’s great as you can then write extremely tailored ad text for that keyword, link it to a highly relevant landing page and you will ultimately get a high quality score and pay less than your competitors who haven’t put the effort in. This unfortunately is not common!

In general you will find accounts that have only a few campaigns with Ad Groups containing tons of keywords that are all different and all linked to one generic ad. The problem with this approach is it goes against everything that Google is looking for in an account and therefore they will penalise you for it.


Google’s dream is that each user will have a seamless journey from searching for your product, clicking on your ad, landing on a relevant page and then buying a product or submitting a form.

With most accounts, the user searches, sees a generic ad that might relate to what they searched for, clicks on the ad and lands on the homepage to then have to try and navigate your site to where they want to be (or they just bounce straight back to the results page). This is not a good user experience and goes against Google’s best practices!

CARDINAL PPC SIN #4.1: Lack of visibility

Ok, really this could be an extra sin, but the most common cause is poor campaign structure: the other issue with grouping all your keywords in one Ad Group is that is causes a lack of visibility on Ad Group performance. Your Ad Group on the surface could be hitting your targets, where as in reality only one keyword is converting and is making the Ad Group appear as though it is performing well as a whole. Once broken down all other keywords in the group have terrible CPAs and therefore you are wasting money on these. If the account is structured correctly you can see this at a glance.

CARDINAL PPC SIN #3: Overbidding because you think the higher you appear the better

It is a very common misconception of companies that you need to appear in an average position of 1.5 plus in order to get the highest converting traffic and that this will give you the most for your money, even if you are on a very tight budget.

This is not the way to approach an AdWords campaign and it will not give you the best ROI for your money. If you have a $50 a day budget and you only have a 35% impression share but you insist on appearing in position one you will be losing money. You are simply not utilising your money to get maximum effect.

Just by reducing your max CPC by 15- 20% and appearing between position 2 and 3 you will see a much larger increase in traffic and because it is still all relevant traffic (providing your account is set up correctly) you will subsequently have increased your chance of a conversion.


More traffic from a lower position is worth more than less traffic from a higher position.

CARDINAL PPC SIN #2: Not Using Negative Keywords

The use of negative keywords is an essential part of optimising any search campaign, and the number of accounts I have seen that have little to no negative keywords in them is astounding.

Negative keywords are triggers not to show your ad, even if your ad would otherwise normally be shown. All campaigns should, from the very beginning, have a standard set of negative keywords applied before launching. Depending on the business, these are usually terms such as  jobs , careers, free, used to name a few.


Alpha Digital Example Images


Thankfully, there are a huge number of free general negative keyword lists online that you can simply copy and paste into account, and there are even industry specific ones available as well if you look hard enough. Whether you’re a novice or a professional these FREE resources should be used to avoid giving Google money for no reason other than your laziness as an agency or inexperience as an individual.

CARDINAL PPC SIN #1: The use of fully broad match keywords

Just no! no No NO and NO!!! This is the biggest mistake that individuals running PPC campaigns make. Fully broad keywords are almost guaranteed to waste your money on AdWords.


Using fully broad keywords was once described to me as “Allowing Google to decide when and where your ad shows”

This means you are allowing Google to decide when you are going to pay them money to show for something that is completely different to what you had thought you were going to show for.

Alpha Digital Example Images

Just to give you some examples; a Law firm that specialised in Family Law are using the fully broad keyword “Family Law” and they were appearing for search terms such as, “spousal support”, “law”, “family court of Australia” and for their Divorce lawyer terms “family law act 1975 90sn” & “Prenup meaning”. These search terms are clearly not related and yet they were showing and wasting money.

If you as an advertiser want to broaden your search results in order to drive more traffic to your site always use Broad Match Modified keywords over fully broad. This will allow you to show for terms that you can at least qualify first.  Although you will still see some poor quality traffic, this match type will allow you to find similar terms that perform well and the small portion of poor traffic can be negatived out over the first couple of weeks of advertising.

Hopefully your AdWords campaign isn’t facing any of the issues I’ve mentioned. If it is, I highly recommend spending a few hours researching what I have talked about and making some changes to your account. If you have an agency managing your account and you can see some of these issues (your agency should give you access to your account if you ask – it’s your data after all), I would suggest looking elsewhere. Fast.


Chris Lockwood is the head of our Digital Performance team at Alpha Digital. He has years of experience across a wide range of paid advertising platforms including AdWords, Display, Remarketing, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. If you’d like us to have a look at an existing account or start from scratch, don’t hesitate to get in contact today!

/> />
/> />