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5 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 interesting 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 campaign on AdWords, you automatically opt into Search Network with Display Select (SNDS) as your default campaign type. SNDS campaigns, also known as hybrid campaigns, allow you to serve ads on Google Search and Google’s Display Network 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 SNDS campaigns to be the more efficient option for serving ads on search and display. 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 SNDS 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.

The good people over at Wordstream put it perfectly when they said, “In shifting to [the SNDS] model, you are sacrificing significant control over GDN performance and putting a great deal of faith in Google”. The more control you have over your campaign targeting, the more successful you will be as an advertiser.

The Solution

Opting into a Search Network Only campaign when you want to advertise on the Search Network, and creating a separate Display Network only campaign when you want to advertise on the Display network will give you the best bang for your buck. Sure, it’s a little more work managing 2 campaigns, but the ability to control budget and target more effectively will save you money and make your investment worth it.

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Default Setting #2: Search Partners

Search Partners is one of the features that most advertisers overlook when setting up their AdWords accounts/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,, 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

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 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 box that specifies Search Partners when you’re setting up your Search only campaign for the first time. If you’re interested in removing Search Partners from an existing campaign, you can uncheck the Search Partners box by clicking into Settings, scroll until you see ‘Networks’, click ‘Edit’, and then uncheck the box for Search Partners.

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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 to 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: Auto Mobile Opt-In

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 straight forward. 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.

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Default Setting #5: Display campaigns showing on Mobile Apps

We saved our best for last: 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 campaign will go live and reach your precisely targeted audience surfing websites of your choosing.

The Reality

Your ad runs 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.

What’s wrong with showing ads on mobile apps?

Since mobile app ads, Google has done a great job to make sure users aren’t costing you money by accidentally clicking on your ads. But Google admits the platform isn’t perfect. Why risk it?

The Solution

You will need to exclude mobile apps for your display campaigns. Head to the AdWords dashboard and click into your display campaign.

  1. Select the  Display Network  tab
  2. Then click into  Placements 
  3. Scroll down to the bottom and select   EXCLUSIONS 
  4. Exclude []

Exclude [] to prevent your display ads from showing inside mobile apps

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.


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.