21 Common Google Adwords Mistakes That Almost All Small Businesses Make

Here is something I hear almost daily in one variation or another:

I tried Google Adwords and it didn’t work for me. I spent a bucketload of cash and didn’t generate one sale or enquiry.

Many small businesses will turn their back on Adwords, totally convinced that Adwords is a waste of their time and money. However, if you heard it as often as I did, you would probably come to the same conclusion that I did – It isn’t Adwords that is the problem.

Good news is that you can now elevate yourself and your business to Adwords success on the back of the scrapheap of small business advertisers that have failed.

This list will live on in their memory.

Mistake 1 – Trusting Google

adwords fails & mistakes - trusting google

Lets be clear – Google makes almost all of their money from Adwords. I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty hesitant to trust a company who is only interested in making me spend more money.

Many small businesses get sucked in by Google’s many initiatives to make it easier for small businesses, such as:

  • Adwords Express
  • Notifications
  • Automated bidding
  • Free credit
  • Seemingly Helpful support staff

Don’t be fooled, all of the above are designed to part with more and more of your advertising dollars.

Mistake 2 – Using Adwords Express

adwords fails & mistakes - adwords express

I know I touched on this point above, but I cannot overstate how important this point is.

Adwords express does make it easy for you to get an Adwords campaign up and going quickly, but it also takes away almost all of the options that make it possible for you to gain an advantage over your competition.

If I had to sum it up in a sentence: easy to spend money, difficult to know where that money is going.

To get the most out of your marketing budget, steer clear of Adwords Express.

Mistake 3 – Under Budgeting

Most businesses are willing to give Adwords (and other marketing channels) a go, but very few really commit to it.

Giving it a go in my experience means allocating a very small budget and once that runs out, if it didn’t generate a sale, completely give up on it.

Keep these things in mind:

  • On average, it takes twice as many clicks to generate the first conversion as the second
  • Adwords conversion rates vary, but for some 1% or 1 in 100, may be normal

So that means if you see a conversion in your first 200 clicks, this may be normal. You need clicks and performance data to refine your targeting and attract the right types of people to your website and improve your campaign.

Point is, if you stick to it, your conversion rate should improve, but if you give up after 100 clicks you may miss out on a sustainable source of leads and new business.

Mistake 4 – Using a poor performing Websites

If your website is not currently doing it’s job (turning visitors into phone calls, enquiries, sales etc.) then paying for more visitors using Adwords is recipe for disaster.

It would be like standing out on the street and paying random people to visit a restaurant that has recently been closed down by food health inspectors, with ZERO obligation to actually eat there.

Put simply – the better your website converts, the better Adwords is going to work for you.

Invest in your website and understand how it performs and you will be able to maximise the returns you can expect from Adwords.

Mistake 5 – Not knowing what a conversion is worth to your business

Adwords can be really simple when you know your numbers.

With conversion tracking set it up, you can quickly learn how much it costs to acquire a new lead in Adwords.

However, too many small businesses fail to calculate what that lead is worth to them.

If a lead is worth $100 and it costs $50 to acquire it, then most businesses will run Adwords every day of the week.

On the flip side, if you know you are paying too much to acquire leads, then consider moving your marketing budget to other channels.

Mistake 6 – No conversion tracking set up

adwords mistake - no conversions

This one really bothers me.

Within Adwords you have the ability to track:

  • Phone calls (From Ads and from your website)
  • Emails
  • Sales
  • Booking
  • Enquiries
  • Newsletter subscribes

However, 80% or more of the adwords accounts I review (which have been set up by small business owners or staff) are not tracking even one of these things.

The only indicator of performance that can be used is whether people are clicking on your Ads. Wouldn’t you rather focus on attracting those people that are most likely to call or enquire, rather than just those people that are clicking on ads?

Remember this: Clicks cost you money, Conversions make you money.

Mistake 7 – Using the default targeting settings

adwords mistakes - default settings

If you to follow each of the default Adwords settings you would have done the following things wrong:

  • Severely limited the number of options you have available to you to improve performance
  • Targeted the entire country
  • Show ads 27 hours, 7 days
  • Show ads to anyone who is likely to click (not necessarily convert)
  • Show text based ads on the display network (competing with engaging image based ads)

All of the above can waste your valuable money, but may be important in some circumstances.

Take the time to understand the main options when setting up a campaign and eliminate unnecessary wastage.

Mistake 8 – Not setting clear location targeting

adwords mistakes - geo targeting

As mentioned above, Google will target the whole country by default if you don’t specify otherwise.

This is fine if you service the whole country, but just imagine how much money a small local business could waste if it was showing ads promoting a local service to the whole country.

Unfortunately, it happens alot. The good news is that it is easy to fix.

Look at your existing customer list and where they live. If 90% are within 10 kms of your business, then it makes sense to advertise to only those within 10 kms.

Mistake 9 – Creating Poorly Themed Ad Groups

An Ad Group is simply a group of keywords with common Ads and a common landing page.

The 2 most common things small businesses get wrong are:

  • Creating only 1 Ad group with every keyword they want to target with just 1 or very few ads
  • Creating multiple ad groups without a common theme

What most businesses should do is match the keywords to the ad, to the landing page and provide the smoothest journey possible from when someone searches, to arriving at your page which hopefully provides the solution.

Easiest way to do this is to work backwards from your landing pages when creating your ad groups and asking yourself:

  • Is this ad relevant to this landing page?
  • Is this group of keywords relevant to this ad and also this landing page?

If the answer is ‘no’ then create a new Ad group.

Mistake 10 – Sending visitors to the wrong landing page

You can tell Google EXACTLY where you want people to go on your website after they have clicked an Ad. So why would you send them to the homepage?

Send them to the most relevant page for their query – or in other words, show them what they are looking for! If you do not have a specific page for what people are looking for, then consider creating one.

If they are searching for red dresses, send them to the dresses category page, not the womens clothing page or the homepage of your site.

People are impatient and hate to have their time wasted, so if they don’t see exactly what they are looking for when they land on your website, they will leave and they probably won’t come back.

Mistake 11 – Using only broad match

common adwords mistakes

Broad match is the equivalent of writing down a word and asking Google to then show an ad whenever someone types in that word plus synonyms, other similar words and really anything that is kinda related to the word that you wrote down.

If you own a gym, you might consider adding the word ‘gym’ into your campaign.

Don’t be surprised when your ads are showing for:

  • gymnasium
  • gymnastics
  • gym equipment
  • gym singlet
  • gym exercises

Great way to waste money, but if you want to have more control over what keywords trigger your ads then consider using other match types such as phrase and exact.

Mistake 12 – One Ad To rule them all!

Many small business owners know their product and service better than their kids. But if I ask one of my clients to write something about what they do and I get every excuse possible.

However, when it comes to Adwords, most small business owners must think themselves poets.

The first ad they ever write is so perfect, that they never need to write another. Well that’s what I’m going with.

Back in reality, even the best copywriters need to test their pitches. Adwords allows you to test multiple different ads against each other and make changes based on good information – such as which ads are leading to sales, and which are not.

So don’t just write one ad, write 2-3 and test them against each other. Who knows, you might even learn something about your target audience that you didn’t expect.

Mistake 13 – Using dynamic keyword insertion

It is always a good idea to have your a keyword in the headline of your ad. It draws attention and is far more likely to get clicked on.

Dynamic keyword insertion does this for you automatically.

However use with extreme caution, as this seemingly helpful feature is responsible for some of the most epic marketing fails known to man.

Rather than explain what I mean by this, I’m just going to show you:

imageimageAmazon AdWords fail

Mistake 14 – Focusing on the wrong types of keywords

Google’s keyword planner does help when putting together campaigns and getting a feel for how often particular words are searched and how much it may cost per click.

However, it can lead business owners astray – particularly when it comes to keywords with large monthly search volumes.

You may want to be to appear for the most commonly searched keywords in your space, but most of the time it is not in your best interests.

If you sell skin care products, I can almost guarantee that advertising for ‘skin care’ is a waste of time and money.

This is an informational search – and the person typing this is probably a long way from purchasing anything, let alone your product.

However, if the person searched for ‘Australian organic facial cleanser’ it is safe to say they know exactly what they are looking for and far more likely to purchase if your offering matches what they are looking for.

The first example might get searched 10,000 times a month, but this is a poor indication of value.

The second example may only searched 10 times a month, but has far more commercial value.

The power of Adwords is that certain search words are easy to identify as having ‘commercial intent’ (eg. ‘buy XYZ’ or ‘XYZ for sale’) so you can catch people when they are looking to buy.

So why waste time with people who are yet to make up their mind?

Mistake 15 – Bidding on every keyword remotely relevant to your business

Most small businesses know their product offering back to front and are certain they know which keywords are relevant to their business.


However, it is almost never a good idea to advertise for every keyword that seems rele

Mistake 16 – Always aiming for top positions

adwords mistake - top positions

Small business owners are proud, and probably wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t think they are (or could be) the best.

One big problem is that many business owners equate top positions in Google as proof of superiority.

Top positions cost more, sometimes significantly more. So if your marketing budget is unlimited, this is fine, but for the rest of us it may be wise to aim for a position that maximises your return on investment.

In my experience, somewhere between position 2-3 is going to get you just as many conversions, but without the massive price tag.

Mistake 17 – Set and forget

adwords fails & mistakes - set and forget

Even if you did everything right in setting up your campaign and working on the account so that it generates a positive ROI – the second you let it go, it will start to decline.

It won’t be immediate, but more like a car that hasn’t been serviced in a long time – it will work alright for a while, but it will start to slow down, certain parts will stop working and eventually it will cost you more money to fix than just getting a new car.

New competitors even the market, consumer behaviour changes, the Adwords platform itself evolves –  if your Adwords campaign is not evolving, then it will eventually fall behind.

Mistake 18 – Making frequent changes

On the flip side of the coin, making too many changes can be just as harmful, if not more, than making none.

To make smart decisions in Adwords you need information. The more information you have, the better the decision should be.

3 clicks on a particular keyword without a sale or enquiry does not mean that it is not working. Same goes for days of the week, hours of the day, ad copy performance and pretty much every other variable in Adwords.

Wait until you have at least 10 clicks (preferably more) before making a change – any sooner and you could be shooting yourself in the foot.

Mistake 19 – Not using negatives

adwords fails & mistakes - no negative keywords

If you are not using negative keywords, then you are almost certainly paying for people to come to your website that shouldn’t be there.

Negative keywords enable you to filter out traffic that is not relevant to your business and unlikely to result in a conversion.

If you are a local dentist, you probably aren’t interested in people searching from ‘dentist jobs’, or ‘dental careers’ – but your ads may be appearing for these searches without you realising it.

By adding ‘jobs’ and ‘careers’ as negative keywords, you are opting out of searches including those words.

Mistake 20 – Not bidding on your brand

Many small businesses feel they do not need to put up ads for branded searches because they already have top of page positions organically. Here are a couple of reasons they may want to reconsider that:

  • Not bidding on your brand opens the door for competitors to try and steal business from you
  • Adwords Ads can present far more information to people than an organic listing, such as your address, phone number, promotions, positive reviews
  • Adwords ads can be used to flexibly highlight special promotions, events, sales or any other important messages that you want people to be aware of
  • More real estate on page 1

Mistake 21 – Bidding on competitors brands

Sounds good in theory, but it is not as simple as putting up an ad for a competitors name and then seeing the dollars roll in for a couple of reasons:

  • When someone searches for a competitor, they are looking for that competitor and will probably keep searching until they find them.
  • Unless your Ad blatantly uses the competitors brand name in the Ad copy you will likely have to pay significantly more per click than the competitor as your Ad will be considered far less relevant.


Google Adwords can be a phenomenal marketing tool for small businesses. But it can also be a black hole for your marketing budget if you are not prepared.

Avoid these mistakes and you will succeed where many others before you have failed.