10 Ways to Breathe New Life Into a Floundering Google AdWords Campaign


As a search marketer by trade, I spend a large percentage of my time working on search engine optimization and search engine marketing on behalf of clients. Naturally, my team’s focus is mostly directed toward Google, at least in the early stages of optimization.

Most of the clients we sign up for SEM, in particular, are running Google AdWords campaigns that are failing to provide much value. Our new clients run the gamut from merely frustrated to ready to cut their losses and stop advertising altogether.

We often see common trends among these accounts. This is why we normally opt to completely rebuild the campaign from the ground up. This is especially true if they have used a provider who was careless or inexperienced with setting up the account in the first place.

This is not a formulaic solution – i.e. my SEM team doesn’t rebuild every single account or campaign using a predetermined methodology. Instead, we look at the dynamics of the business and the industry, figure out how much control we can have over the landing experience, and get creative about what fixes we might apply for this individual account.

The beauty of this approach is we can pick and choose the tactics we apply based on situation. This article will cover some of the more common tactics we consider during our rebuild process. Hopefully it will initiate some creative new ideas for you in improving your own PPC campaigns if you manage it internally.

If you look to hire an outside consultant or agency, this can also serve as a reference list for you to better understand what they are proposing during a similar exercise. Either way, I hope you come away from this piece with some new ideas to go out and test for yourself.

Let’s look at 10 things you might do to breathe new life into your own PPC advertising program:

Re-evaluate the Keyword Targeting Strategy

PPC may look simple at first glance, but there is both an art and a science behind the way you select and target keywords. Let’s cover off some of the basics.

First, be sure you are targeting keywords that are very relevant to your offering. For example, if you sell software that cleans up virtual machine orphan sessions, you wouldn’t target the keyword “virtualization.” That’s not what you are selling. Opt for a more long-tail keyword that better hones in on what you do.

Second, look at potential target keywords with the buyer’s journey in mind. When you see “What is…” types of keywords, those are better suited to SEO since they are information in nature. If you want to drive leads or sell something, you want late funnel keywords in your campaign.

Third, take time to decide which match types are the most important to run. You can employ bid stacking if you like, where you target all of the match types with different bids in the same ad groups. If you are unfamiliar with keyword match types, read this before trying to rework your keywords on your own, or bring in a professional who already gets it.

Restructure Ad Groups Using Tighter Themes

One of the biggest problems we find with existing AdWords campaigns is structural. Badly structured campaigns are very hard to optimize and tend to have a fragmented user experience.

User experience is of massive importance to Google AdWords success. Google assigns a Quality Score to each and every keyword, which is a benchmark of how good the user experience is for that keyword. Quality Scores go from 1-10, and they not only impact how often your ad will show, but also how much you have to pay for a click. You want higher quality scores whenever possible.

When I see ad groups with a bunch of loosely related keywords all set to broad match, I know it was built by someone without much experience in PPC. The key is to build each ad group around very tight themes.

In other words, you want keywords with common verbiage / characters in the same ad group. This allows you to then have all or most of the keywords show up in the ad text, where it will be bolded on the SERP. This has been proven to increase click thrus, which in turn helps bolster quality scores (CTR is one of the major factors in quality score).

Back in early 2013, my company rebuilt an enormous campaign on behalf of one of our larger clients in this manner. It was a smashing success, as the average QS across their account jumped from 5.5 to 8.4 in a matter of two weeks.

Amp Up Your Negative Keywords To Avoid Bad Clicks

If you opt to use a mix of keyword match types, you will find bad clicks are inevitable. For example, say you were targeting “cloud it services” using broad or phrase match. Having tested this keyword, you might find your ads showing up for “serta pillow top mattress” or “cloud music player.”

This is where you would want to deploy negative match keywords. Think of negative match keywords as the “everything but” modifier – i.e. show my ad for all of my keywords targeted, but omit anything with this negative match keyword in it. For the examples above, you might use negative keywords such as “serta,” “mattress,” and “music.”

Tommy Landry
Tommy Landry has 20 years of experience, with a deep understanding of Social SEO and Online Demand Generation. Operating out of Austin, TX, he consults with clients of all sizes to improve their website performance and lead flow via his company, Return On Now. Find him on Twitter: @tommy_landry.
Tommy Landry

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5 thoughts on “10 Ways to Breathe New Life Into a Floundering Google AdWords Campaign

  1. Hi Tommy,
    I really enjoyed this article – and I think you provided some valuable insight :-)The most important piece of insight that I think you provided is to tightly structure your Ad Groups. Often, when I take over campaigns it seems like the previous company simply threw a lot of words together and didn’t even think about the customer journey. That is the sign of someone who doesn’t understand PPC. If you can get the keyword > ad > landing page> value proposition to all match the users expectations and (as close as possible) the actual words of the user then you are golden. I agree that it takes time, but for me it is worth it. If you put in the time at the beginning to really match these up (some of my Ad Groups simply have one keyword in BMM) then it is much easier to optimize as the campaign goes along and you will have better results initially.

    To answer your question the one aspect that I see that is overlooked is taking into account the device that the user is on when they click. When a user performs a search on a mobile device, their intent may be completely different than if they performed the search on a desktop. Additionally, the landing page needs to be mobile optimized and there are different options for mobile vs. desktop that need to be considered (such as a click to call option for mobile). Getting the mobile intent and mobile optimization right can dramatically increase the ROAS.

    Thanks again for the great article :-)

    1. Hi Adam, thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I agree – if you get the structure and themes right up front, it makes the optimization process much cleaner. Since QS are set early and change quickly the first two weeks, it matters more than most folks realize.

      Agree on all the platform stuff. What do you do differently between mobile vs. other ads to differentiate?

      1. Tommy good article my friend, I wouldn`t expect anything less from you.
        We see this subject alot from especially new clients who come in asking what are you going to do different…
        We ask what did they do and then we sit down and explain what we can do different, which is usually a better game plan.

  2. I would like to add #11, which I just recently, kind of, discovered.

    I have known about impression share for sometime, but it was originally only available at the campaign and perhaps ad group level. I recently learned it is now available at the keyword level.

    Historically I bid according to position. If I was in position 3 (my target) I would not adjust bid because I was right were I wanted to be.

    However know that I can see impression share data for that keyword, I am now discovering that many keywords have a low impression share. So even though my bid is getting position 3 on average, it is too low to get a decent impression share and I am loosing impressions/clicks.

    I’m not sure when they added the ability to see impression share at the keyword level, but it has blown new life into my campaigns!

  3. Hi Tom,

    I really enjoyed reading the article. The only other suggestion that I would like to add is using ad extensions in your text ads. I am a becoming of a big fan of adding/testing all the different ad extensions (Location Extensions, Review Extensions, Expanded Sitelinks) if they are relevant to your client’s account. I know the use of ad extensions will also help increase QS. This in turn will help an advertiser improve ad placement and lower CPCs. Again, I really enjoyed reading the article. Thanks again!