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Are You Wasting Your Google Ads Budget? 11 Lessons Learned in Audits

Check out these common missteps that can waste your Google Ads budget, based on lessons learned in conducting PPC audits.

Are You Wasting Your Google Ads Budget? 11 Lessons Learned in Audits

In spite of a healthy obsession with metrics and data, many PPC managers are inadvertently wasting their Google Ads budget.

Sometimes this wastage is obvious when you take a look at the Google Ads account.

But often, it doesn’t reveal itself until you audit the paid search program more broadly.

In the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege of getting an insiders’ look at hundreds of paid search programs.

And there are themes (and missteps) that emerge again and again.

In this article, you’ll see the most common problem areas with PPC programs that result in wasted ad spend.

For the sake of clarity, these missteps are divided into two categories: foundational problems and easy fixes.

Foundational Paid Search Mistakes

Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first.

These are problems and mistakes that aren’t easily identified by a simple Google Ads account audit and will require more than toggling a setting on or off to address.

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Unfortunately, this is an area where many PPC audits fail because these problems aren’t as immediately evident and aren’t as easily fixed.

They may require you to get buy-in from your executive team or client, make a major shift in your approach, or push back on client or company directives.

None of these are easy!

So steel yourself as we consider five big issues that can cause you to waste your Google Ads budget.

1. Venturing Down the Wrong Path(s)

Conversion tracking is frequently an issue, whether your company is big or small.

It can be a lack of tracking, tracking the wrong things, or (surprisingly!) tracking too many things.

The problem with the lack of tracking is obvious. You can’t learn, improve or optimize if you don’t know what’s working and what’s not. And tracking is the way to put that piece in place.

Similarly, tracking the wrong things doesn’t do any good either.

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Then there’s the problem of tracking too much.

Tracking too much can distort your numbers and warp your focus – which can mess with your decision-making.

To illustrate, let’s look at a screenshot from an account we inherited:

Conversion tracking issue on Google Ads.Screenshot from Google Ads, August 2021

At first glance, we were amazed to see 186,146 conversions (circled in red, top right).

Based on the nature of the business and our initial conversations, we were surprised to see the client had generated over 186K leads in the last 30 days.

But as we looked more closely, we could see that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, the client had made 3,238 transactions (circled in red, bottom right).

Why the confusion?

Because tracking was set up for every micro conversion. They’re tracking multiple activities, from an expression of initial interest through to the actual sale (“transactions”).

There’s nothing wrong with tracking micro conversions per se. And this data can be useful.

But if you include all this detail in your reporting, you risk muddying the waters.

So instead of focusing on actual sales, you get caught up in how many people are landing on certain pages or how many pages those people visited… and the list goes on.

That doesn’t mean you have to stop tracking these micro conversions – just know there are ways to find this data in Google Analytics.

A big issue with tracking every little thing? Your automation can quickly get pulled out of whack from irrelevant conversion signals if you’re not super careful.

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2. The “How Can We Save Money?” Mindset

Putting too much emphasis on saving money – rather than optimizing returns – is often the source of even bigger problems.

Yes, saving budget through lower Cost per Clicks (CPC) and Cost per Acquisition (CPA) is something to applaud.

But still, there’s a limit.

When you focus on saving money instead of returns, your paid search account gets smaller, tighter, and might eventually wither away.

In contrast, a healthy paid search program requires a good, workable budget to grow and scale.

That doesn’t mean throwing money down a well. You can still keep a firm grip on overall ROI while loosening the purse strings.

The ironic thing is that sometimes clients want to spend more because they recognize the need to fuel the fire. Meanwhile, their agency is focused on driving down costs.

Good communication is essential to avoid this kind of misunderstanding.

3. Post-Click Blindness

Failure to consider users’ post-click experience is another huge cause of wasted Google Ads budget.

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You can do everything perfectly pre-click: choose keywords carefully, test messaging, and put sufficient budget behind the effort. But all that can be for nothing if the post-click experience is bad.

What does a bad post-click experience look like?

It could be a landing page that’s actually the home page.

It could be a landing page that takes forever to load.

Or it could be landing page messaging that conflicts with the ad itself.

Any one of these issues can sabotage your conversions.

For example, we had a client that was selling a high-ticket, high-emotion service that they delivered at several locations in the U.S.

When we tested their conversion process, we found that the location address on the landing page didn’t match the location provided on the ad.

Not surprisingly, not many people who clicked on the ad continued on to complete the request for more info (the conversion in this case).

Remember, when people research and shop online, they’re looking for red flags, particularly for high-ticket, high-emotion items.

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Don’t give them an excuse to not move forward. Put as much thought and effort into their post-click experience as their pre-click.

Now, you may think that fixing the post-click experience would be easy. Just create some good landing pages and you’re golden.

If only it were so simple.

We often find that post-click elements are subject to a lot of internal friction among departments.

The PPC person wants things one way, the SEO person wants them another, and the web developer is too busy to do anything anyway.

And once you get all that sorted, you have to go through a convoluted approval process.

It’s a lot. And in the fast-moving world of PPC, post-click elements can become a real stumbling block.

4. Lack of Fortitude

The inability (or unwillingness) to push back on requests and directives can also lead to a lot of wasted ad spend.

Let’s face it, as PPC pros, we can get a lot of unhelpful requests from managers or clients.

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They might want you to use a certain keyword, target a particular audience, or include a particular geographic area.

Sometimes these requests make perfect sense.

But other times, they go against broader objectives.

When that happens, you need to have the guts to question these directives and push back.

I get it.

When you’re overwhelmed or a little inexperienced, pushing back can be hard.

And if you’re an agency, you don’t want to risk annoying the client by questioning their “guidance.”

But if you’re not willing to open up a discussion, things can go dramatically wrong quickly.

For example, one of our clients had asked its previous agency to spend more on brand for a variety of business reasons.

This request was fair enough. But to fulfill it, the agency had to pull back from bidding on its top-converting non-branded terms, which directly impacted revenue.

Consequently, this client wasn’t happy.

Sadly, if the agency had pushed back a little bit – asked some questions and communicated the potential impact of this directive – this whole situation could have been avoided.

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Again, communication is key!

5. Missing the Forest for the Trees

Spending the bulk of your time “tinkering” with your Google Ads account is another problem (and a potential signal of wasted budget spend).

It’s not that making little adjustments to your account is a bad thing.

It’s just that they’re a symptom that you might be ignoring bigger problems.

After all, when you’re getting the big-picture stuff right, all that tinkering doesn’t add up to much.

But when big, complicated PPC problems are present, it’s easy to ignore those problems in favor of small tweaks.

So you decrease spend on Mondays between 5:00 and 8:00 pm. Or you increase spend by 5% on Saturdays. Or exclude a state or two from your targeting.

Meanwhile, your landing pages are awful and your PPC budget shrinks every year.

And the “tinkering” only serves as busy work to distract you from the big picture.

Easy-Fix Paid Search Mistakes

Now that we’ve gotten the hard stuff out of the way (whew!), let’s look at the easy stuff.

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Here are six common mistakes that will be fairly evident in your Google Ads account if you look for them.

6. Search Terms

Bidding on the wrong search terms is perhaps the most obvious, yet common, problem area.

For example, an account we recently audited was spending $100 a day to advertise a laundry storage solution – yet the search terms report mostly contained  “washer-and-dryer” terms.

This company didn’t sell washers or dryers – it sold storage solutions for closets and other laundry-type areas. But because washer and dryer terms weren’t negated, almost all of their budget was wasted.

Which was a real shame because they could have made good use of this ad budget elsewhere.

7. Optimization Score

Following all of Google’s recommendations in an attempt to obtain a 100% optimization score is another sure way to waste budget.

As I’ve written before, implementing Google’s optimization recommendations will bring mixed results (at best) and could be a total disaster (at worst).

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It’s always wise to question and test each recommendation and only implement those that make sense for your account and strategy.

By taking this approach, your optimization score will likely level out at around 80%, and that’s okay!

8. Enhanced CPC

Having the Enhanced CPC bidding option turned on is another common source of wasted ad spend.

Enhanced CPC (ECPC) is a type of automated bidding that “automatically adjusts your manual bids for clicks that seem more or less likely to lead to a sale or conversion on your website.”

While every account is different, we’ve found that (just like manual and automated bidding), ECPC isn’t one size fits all. It can work really well for some campaigns but less so for others.

Unfortunately, Enhanced CPC is turned on by default. So unless you’re aware of it (and manually toggle it off), it will remain in place.

When I see ECPC turned on across the board, I have to question whether it’s been tested. And that makes me wonder if other bidding strategies haven’t been tested, either.

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Finding the right bidding strategy can be a real game changer. So finding nothing but default settings in this area can be a red flag.

9. Ad Extensions

Another common issue that can end up wasting some of your Google Ads budget is not using all relevant ad extensions because each extension is an opportunity to reach your audience.

Just as importantly, you also need a comprehensive strategy for your ad extensions.

Remember, extensions can impression in almost any combination, so you need to make sure that every possible combination is effective.

So, for example, if all of your extensions have “free shipping” messaging, that’s not only repetitive – you’re wasting the opportunity to include other important messaging.

10. New Ads and Campaign Types

Google Ads frequently introduces new features and updates, including new ads and campaign types.

If you haven’t tested some of the newer ones yet, such as responsive search ads or dynamic search ads, you could be missing out.

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11. Audiences

Additional missed opportunities are often found in audiences.

Every time you build a new campaign, you should revisit the audiences you choose to see if any no longer apply or if there are untapped opportunities.

Put any likely candidates in observation mode to see how they perform.

Stop Wasting Your Google Ads Budget

As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways big and small to waste your Google Ads budget.

Fortunately, once you’re aware of these problem areas, you’re much more empowered to fix or avoid them.

And when you do, you’ll have more dollars to work with in your Google Ads budget.

More Resources:


Feature image: Irina Strelnikova/Shutterstock

CategoryPaid Search
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Pauline Jakober

Pauline Jakober is CEO of Group Twenty Seven, a boutique online advertising agency specializing in Google Ads and Microsoft Ads ... [Read full bio]

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