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Google AdWords

7 Default Settings in AdWords That Lower Your ROI

We’ve all been in situations where you get burned by the “as advertised” description of a product or service you’re interested in snatching up. Think every child’s toy ever:
not as advertised

Or that “friend of friend’s” wedding DJ business:

Dj Dog Guf
(I’d be pretty excited about this)

The point is – what you’re promised isn’t always what you get. If you end up with a DJ’ing bulldog, it’s no big deal. But when your business’ money is on the line for something like advertising on AdWords, not getting that ROI you were promised can have major consequences.

Many of the default settings that promise success could actually result in lots of money being spent with little to no return on your investment. Let’s take a look at 5 default settings in AdWords that promise you the world, only to deliver a heaping dose of disappointment.

Default Setting #1: Search Network with Display Select

When creating a Search Campaign in AdWords, you automatically opt into serving ads on both the Search Network and Display Network. Google used to call this hybrid campaign “Search Network with Display Select,” but has simplified it as a Network setting in the new AdWords interface.

The new Network setting is called “Include Google Display Network,” which allows you to serve ads on the Google Search and Google Display Networks simultaneously via a single campaign.

It may sound like the more efficient option, but its limitations and how it serves ads across networks could cost you money.

The Promise

Google promises including the Display Network in your Search Campaign to be the more efficient option for serving ads. You can be easily sold on the mindset of “Why would you spend time setting up two separate campaigns for the same product/service when you can achieve the same results with one campaign?”

The Reality

Although the premise of Search Network with Display Select is a solid one, we’ve personally seen it cause advertisers to spend more and see less of a return on their ad spend. This trend is attributed to limited targeting capabilities and the speed in which budgets can be depleted on the GDN.

When serving your Display Network ads through a Search Campaign, you limit your optimization capabilities. The more control you have over your campaign targeting, the more successful you will be as an advertiser.

The Solution

Deselect “Include Google Display Network” in your campaign networks settings and create separate Display Campaigns when you want to advertise on the Display Network. Sure, it’s a little more work managing 2 campaigns, but the ability to control budget and to target more effectively will save you money and make your investment worth it.

Include Google Display Network
It’s best to separate your Search and Display campaigns.

Default Setting #2: Include Search Partners

Including Search Partners is one of the features that most advertisers overlook when setting up their AdWords campaigns for the first time. By default, every advertiser creating an AdWords campaign is opted into serving ads across Google’s Search Partners. Search Partners extend the reach of your search ads across hundreds of non-Google websites.

Although Google does not publicly publish this list, some of the partners they have disclosed include AOL, About.com, New York Times, and others. While these big names sound enticing, it’s important to keep in mind that there are hundreds of other websites that you’ve never heard of (like www.MediaWeekJobs.co.uk).

The Promise

The value of serving ads on Google’s Search Partner sites is supposedly around “diversifying” your ad presence. Google Search has been getting more and more competitive, and it’s making everything more expensive. So it makes sense to spread the wealth to partner sites and capitalize on the cheaper clicks, right? Not so fast, slick.

The Reality

Keeping Google Search Partners enabled often causes a dip in performance by lowering your click-through rate (CTR), which can then lower your quality score and put you in a position to increase your bids and spend. On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve seen ads on Search Partner sites drive an incredible amount of clicks, eating up budgets with no conversions to thank for it. It’s also difficult to manage which sites your ads are showing up, and we all know less control over your ads often results in wasted ad spend.

The Solution

The solution here is a simple one, just uncheck the Search Partners box in your campaign networks settings when setting up your campaign. If you’re interested in removing Search Partners from an existing campaign, you can do so by clicking into Settings, scroll until you see ‘Networks’ and then uncheck “Include Google search partners.”

Include Google Search Partners
Checking this box will allow your ads to show on 3rd party sites.

Default Setting #3: Broad Match Keywords

When building out your keyword list, Google defaults to categorizing them as Broad Match keywords. As its name suggests, Broad Match is the least restrictive of all the match types.

This means your ads are more likely to be triggered and get clicked on as Google will take a few liberties on when to serve your ad. The problem is the quality of those clicks is often lacking.

The Promise

The promise Google makes here is a simple one—the broader the match type, the more your ads will trigger, and the more clicks you will see on your website. To their credit, they are certainly not wrong here. Broad Match keywords will, in fact, drive more clicks and website visitors, but the savviest advertisers understand a click is meaningless if it’s the wrong type of person.

The Reality

Keeping your keywords in Broad Match leads to spending lots of money on irrelevant traffic, or in other words, spending money on people that have no intention of buying your product or service. This is a result of how Broad Match keywords function with AdWords.

You can read more about it here, but the short version is that if your keyword is is in Broad Match, Google will trigger your ad if the search query contains “misspellings, synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations”. This means if you have the keyword ‘women’s hats’ in Broad Match, someone searching for ‘men’s hats’ could trigger and click on your ad. Not good if your company only sells women’s hats.

AdWords-keyword-Match-TypesThe Solution

There are two things you can do to avoid being burned by Broad Match keywords:

  • Change the match type of your keywords when creating your keywords lists. We suggest using Broad Match Modifier and Phrase Match keywords, as they give advertisers fantastic reach while maintaining some control over the quality of query that will cause an ad to trigger. You can learn more about the other match types here.
  • If you decide Broad Match keywords are the way to go, you can leverage the Search Terms Report to understand the specific queries that are causing your ads to trigger. Once you have this information, you can begin to build out a negative keyword list so that something like ‘men’s hats’ will never trigger your ads again in the future. This can be incredibly time consuming, but is worth it for advertisers that have the time to invest in ad maintenance.

Default Setting #4: No Mobile Bid Adjustments

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 5 years, you know that mobile is the elephant in the room people can’t seem to stop talking about. More and more companies are being pushed into advertising across mobile devices, but this does not mean it’s the right move for everyone. One thing that’s often overlooked when building out a campaign on AdWords is that you’re automatically opted into serving ads on mobile devices.

The Promise

The promise Google is making here rides a trend that has been pretty apparent across the industry: more and more people are spending more and more time on their mobile phones. With more people spending time on their mobile phones, advertisers should be taking advantage of the screen time.

The Reality

Google really isn’t wrong here. According to KPCB, mobile usage has finally overtaken desktop usage when accounting for total screen time, however, advertisers have not yet caught up to the trend when looking at total mobile advertising spend.

This leaves a ton of opportunity on the table, and Google is pushing their advertisers to start dipping their toes in the water. The problem is not all advertisers are created equal. Some businesses simply convert worse on mobile devices compared to desktops, and those businesses should not waste their money trying to make mobile work.

The Solution

If you’re an advertiser that does not have a mobile-optimized website or one that knows mobile traffic performs poorly overall, removing your ads from mobile traffic is pretty straightforward. We wrote a detailed post on how to do it here, but the basic idea is to set your mobile bid adjustment at negative 100%. This tells Google you’re not interested in mobile traffic.

Mobile Bid Adjustments

Default Setting #5: People in, searching for, or who show interest in my targeted location

If your business is selling to tourists, skip this section completely. For the other 99.99% of advertisers, I’m going to let you know how to avoid accidentally spending the big bucks on clicks from halfway across the globe.

The Promise

Google’s targeting options are what make it such a valuable platform for every business. Why would you spend money on a click from someone living in New Jersey, if you’re selling Banana Pudding at a local shop in Nebraska? Well, the promise is that with Location Settings, you won’t (or at least you shouldn’t be).

The Reality

Google defaults your location targeting options to “People in, searching for, or who show interested in my targeted location.”

With this selected, if a homeowner in New Jersey searches for “roof repairs” and the day before they searched for Vacations in Nebraska, an ad for a roofer in Nebraska might show up. For obvious reasons, this is a problem for the roofer in Nebraska. You can learn more about what signals that a person is “interested” in your targeted location here.

This is one of the first settings our account managers check when optimizing a new account. They see a surprising amount of clicks coming from Afghanistan and India in accounts where this setting is left on. Typically these are irrelevant clicks and therefore wasted spend.

The Solution

This is a simple fix. Simply go to your campaign settings, click “Additional Options” > “Location Options” > and choose “Target: People in your targeted locations.”

Targeted Location Interest

If you’d like to learn how this default setting is affecting your campaigns, you can check out this nifty video tutorial on Location Reports or check out our complete guide to geotargeting.

Default Setting #6: Display campaigns showing on Mobile Apps

This one’s interesting – a default setting that’s basically just a random fact that you need to know to prevent losing a bunch of money. How fun is that?

The Promise

Your Display Ads will target your precise audience on every screen possible. Mobile, tablet, desktop, phablet – you name it!

The Reality

Your ads run into the wild, showing on a number of websites that may have been falsely categorized. Even worse, your ads show on mobile apps on Google’s Display Network, wasting a bunch of money for you and your business.
We pay special attention to this because we’ve seen mobile app ads driving less qualified traffic, mostly due to accidental clicks. While Google continues to improve mobile ad experiences, they’ve still got a long ways to go.

The Solution

Putting -100% bid adjustments on mobile devices and excluding “Gmob mobile app noninterstitial” in your content settings (whatever that means) doesn’t ensure your ads won’t show in mobile apps, although that’d be really nice!

Instead, you will need to exclude mobile apps for your display campaigns in your Placements settings. First, head to the AdWords dashboard and click into your display campaign.

  1. Select the  Display Campaigns  tab
  2. Then click into  Placements
  3. Next click the  EXCLUSIONS  tab
  4. Click  Add Placements  (the blue circle with a + sign)  
  5. Select the campaign you would like to exclude mobile app ads from (we recommend all of them!)
  6. Click  Enter multiple placements +
  7. Enter [adsenseformobileapps.com] and click Add Placements
  8. Finallllly…click Save and repeat for your other campaigns or add the exclusion to your account as a whole.

Default Setting #7: Automated Targeting – Conservative Automation

As Google introduces more and more automated bidding options, the choices can get a little confusing. This ROI booster will help you maximize Google’s automated targeting options.

The Promise

Google promises that by leaving Conservative or Aggressive automated targeting on, you’ll “Aim to get as many customers as possible around your current cost per customer.” Count me in, coach, because that sounds like a gold mine!

The Reality

While this may work for advertisers who don’t want to spend much time in their accounts, there are two main reasons why you should choose no automated targeting.

Reason #1: You’ll get less insight into who is converting. When looking at your location reports, you’ll start to see anonymous.google, which isn’t very helpful.

Reason #2: You’ll have less control over your optimizations. What’s more troubling is the fact that Google will go ahead and target people beyond your designated remarketing lists. If you want to specifically target one of your remarketing lists, and only that group, make sure you turn off Conservative Automation.

The Solution

Select “No automated targeting” when creating your campaign. At the moment, there’s no option to change this retroactively in the New AdWords Experience.

No Automated Targeting

You’re all set!

There are lots of amazing things you can achieve with AdWords that can be transformational to your business. That being said, the most important thing you can do as an advertiser is trim the fat on whatever is causing you to spend money without delivering an immense amount of value.

Now, I’m curious…Which default settings tripped you up the most?

Let us know in the comments below! If you have any questions about default settings when setting up new campaigns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us @adhawk – we see every tweet!


Level up your Google AdWords knowledge with these reads:

  1. How Google AdWords Works
  2. Best Facebook Tools for Marketers
  3. AdWords Keyword Match Types: Explained

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About the Author

Dan Pratt is the co-founder and COO of AdHawk (Techstars ‘15). Prior to founding AdHawk, he worked on the Accelerated Growth team at Google, helping startups assess, refine and grow their digital advertising. He’s an expert in all forms of paid advertising and has been honing his marketing and sales skills since selling homemade pizza from his desk in third grade.