Is AdWords Express Hurting Your Small Business?

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I love AdWords. I recommend it for many businesses. It’s a powerful tool, and can be very profitable. In the right situation, if an expert is running AdWords, it’s a source of profitable business. But it’s really complicated and there are a lot of ways to get it wrong. AdWords can cost your business a lot of money very quickly.

What Is AdWords Express?

If you’re not familiar with AdWords Express, it’s an easy way for small businesses using Google Places to run AdWords. You don’t have to choose keywords- but you can’t modify them.

A client for one of my other services ran into trouble with AdWords Express. I wasn’t aware he was doing this, and he wasted a lot of money. Here’s the story…

AdWords Express Misspent 79% of His Money

Sam Alexander (name changed to protect the innocent) runs a limo service in Orlando. He started running AdWords express. He soon ran out of money. I volunteered to take a look at his account. Over the last three months, he spent just over $9,000 on AdWords. About $5,500 of that went to the Places (AdWords Express) campaign. Seductively, the cost per click in that campaign was lower. You know why? Because many of the keywords were showing to the wrong people.

People Who Want “Free” Don’t Hire Car Services

First off, the keywords AdWords Express uses are all broad match, and you can’t use negative keywords here. That’s a big no no, unless you live solely to raise Google’s stock price. You get lots of irrelevant clicks.

147 of the 686 keywords included the word “taxi”. Sam runs a luxury service that’s up to twice as expensive as taxis. What’s worse, the keywords also included “airport shuttle” – there are often free hotel shuttles. People who want free are not going to buy a premium service.

Have you ever hired a car service to or from the airport? If not, and if you’re a taxi person, you are not my client’s customer. I told this story to another guy who’s in bail bonds. He’s not in limos, but he could see that people looking for taxis are not this guy’s customer. He is smarter than AdWords Express.

This is a very specific market, and everybody is not the customer. One of the best things about AdWords is your ability to target the right prospect. But AdWords Express doesn’t allow that.

How much of that $5,500 AdWords Express spend was relevant to Sam’s business? Only the $1,184 for car and limo keywords. That means that AdWords Express spent 79% of the money on the wrong keywords.

Google took $4,300 of Sam’s money over three months providing irrelevant clicks.

Now, just multiple that by the number of small businesses using AdWords Express. Are all situations this bad? Maybe not- but that’s a big inefficiency that could be making Google a lot of money and hurting small businesses. Even if your AdWords Express account is profitable, it’s likely that it’s inefficient and you could be doing even better with more keyword control.

Why Is AdWords Express So Dumb?

Here is what AdWords claims on the sales page for AdWords Express:

Let us manage your ads

Your ad will automatically reach the right people whether they’re searching on laptops or mobile phones. No maintenance required, everything is done for you.

But AdWords Express’s automated way of choosing keywords is not smart enough to deliver on that promise. It seems to have an IQ of about 60. Is it dumb on purpose? Are the categories too general? Or is accomplishing this automation task  beyond Google’s ability?

If you think this is an isolated incident, you’re wrong. Check out this post and the comments below it.

What’s Going on, Google?

Small business owners don’t have time to try to understand AdWords. This service is well-intentioned, but not effective. AdWords Express  isn’t good enough, and needs to be fixed. I propose it be modified to allow some basic subcategory control. I saw about five subcategories of keywords in this account. Sam should have been able to turn off “taxi” and “shuttle”, for example. Do that, and it could be the awesome tool you meant it to be.

Brian Carter
Brian is author of The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money With Facebook and Facebook Marketing: Leveraging Facebook's Features For Your Marketing Campaigns, How to... Read Full Bio
Brian Carter
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