For those outside of the industry, the world of paid marketing can seem downright confusing at best and impenetrable at worst. With all of the recommended best practices on structuring campaigns, bidding strategies, optimisation tactics and ad copy, it’s easy to get lost in the often-conflicting advice.

Within the realm of PPC there are a few common mistakes we come across, which can result in unsuccessful campaigns, i.e. those that spend a lot but don’t achieve the business objectives they’re destined for.

Luckily, these mistakes are easily remedied and best practice implemented; in this blog post we highlight the top 7 most common PPC mistakes and how you can avoid them to achieve the most out of your paid search marketing activity.

1. Not using keyword match types properly

There are four different match types in PPC: broad match, broad match modified, phrase match and exact match. One of the biggest rookie errors when first setting up campaigns is to misuse broad match keywords.

Take the term ‘red socks’, for example. If your company sells red socks, you’d think it would make complete sense to bid on ‘red socks’, right? Wrong. By bidding on broad match ‘red socks’ as a keyword without giving Google any further instruction will mean that your ads would be eligible to appear for a huge number of irrelevant terms.

These would include just ‘socks’, just ‘red’ and all the variations therein, synonyms and close variations included: ‘would red socks suit me’, ‘what to wear with red socks’, ‘photos of animals wearing red socks’, and all other kinds of irrelevant, generic search queries.

Due to the higher volume of searches triggering your ads, spend can quickly increase on broad match keywords, while driving few conversions. Conversely, by using phrase and exact match keywords instead you can ensure more control over which searches your ads appear for.

Using exact match (i.e. having your ads appear only for words or phrases in the order you write them, without any additions or changes in word order) allows you to funnel traffic to specific ad groups for specific searches, which often have a lower cost-per-click and higher conversion rate.

That said, broad match keywords certainly have their place, particularly when mining new keywords to build out your campaigns. But use them with caution (we’d recommend always using broad match modified), and ensure your negative keywords list is robust enough to prevent spikes in irrelevant search queries. Which brings us to our next point…

2. Not using negative keyword lists efficiently

Along with proper use of keyword match types, using a negative keyword list is your next ally in executing PPC campaigns with efficiency and precision.

Best practice dictates that you have a master list of negative keywords and apply this list to all campaigns with the terms or phrases that you don’t want your ads to be triggered for. By regularly checking search query reports you can be sure that you’re not wasting any spend on search queries that you don’t want your ads to appear for.

Beyond this comprehensive master list, cross-campaign negatives are the next step to ensure that you funnel traffic into specific campaigns, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog post. Check out this article for more tips on cross-campaign negatives.

3. Not matching keywords to ad copy

As online consumers’ patience and attention span gradually diminish (apparently the average mobile user now has a shorter attention span than a goldfish), advertisers need to work harder to make their ads as relevant as possible.

A classic PPC mistake is to make one set of ads and then use them across multiple ad groups. In principle this sounds fine if the ad groups in question have broadly the same theme, but if someone searches for ‘car rental’ and your ad appears showing ‘car hire’ in the headline, chances are the searcher won’t register this as being relevant and won’t interact with your ad.

Ideally, you should tailor the ads to the keyword triggering them as close as possible, so in the previous example you would have separate ad groups for ‘car hire’ and ‘car rental’, each with corresponding keywords and ad copy.

Always try to include the keywords in headline 1 of your ads then again in the description, for maximum prominence and relevancy.

4. Focusing on average position

Average position is, as Search Engine Land put it, ‘an often-used, often-misunderstood metric’.

While it may superficially seem that appearing in an average position of ‘1’ means your ads are in the top spot, this is not strictly true. An average position of ‘1’ simply means that your ads are appearing ahead of the other paid ads in the search results.

For some searches, however, the paid ads appear at the bottom of the results page below the organic results, so average position is by no means an indication of the location of your ads when they’re triggered.

Furthermore, targeting the first average position is not a tactic that works for all advertisers, not least because it can be expensive but won’t necessarily lead to an increased volume of conversions. The good news is that Google has recently released four new metrics to allow PPC marketers to get a much more balanced understanding of where their ads are appearing and the influence this has on their other key metrics, including conversion rate.

5. Not using audiences to their full potential

So, you’ve got your campaigns and ad groups broken out beautifully, with relevant and compelling ad copy and negative keyword lists in place, but are you actively optimising your campaigns for specific audiences?

Google has two basic options when it comes to audiences: observation and targeting. Best practice dictates that you should overlay key audiences onto your campaigns on an observation setting to gather data on their performance.

Then, as you go, you can implement positive or negative bid adjustments where necessary to ensure you’re investing in the right audiences for the products or services that you offer. A good place to start with key audiences typically would be all previous site visitors, people similar to all previous site visitors, all previous converters, and people similar to all previous converters.

Beyond those you can build audiences of people who have visited specific pages of your website to target them with tailored messaging as well as affinity and in-market audiences, which are lists that Google build based on searchers’ interest signals garnered from their activity online.

Read our other blog post on the top applications of these audiences in PPC by our in-house audience guru.

6. Not using device bid modifiers

Similar to optimising your campaigns using audiences to reach the right people, bid modifiers at a device level grant you more control over how much you pay for a conversion by device. Some sectors would expect to see a much higher cost per conversion on mobile devices - law, for example.

This is because people would typically be clicking through on their mobiles or tablets simply to browse or research, before then converting on desktop. Other industries, say airport parking, present a quicker and easier decision, and a transaction that most people would be happy to complete on a mobile device.

Keeping a close eye on your data and introducing positive and negative bid adjustments where necessary at a device level will ensure that you’re not paying over the odds for your conversions when they could be achieved at a lower cost.

7. Not bidding on own brand keywords

You’ve probably heard of the term ‘brand equity’ and why it’s important to protect the perception of a brand in the eyes of the general public, and PPC has its place within this.

Essentially, bidding on own brand terms is a commonly misunderstood phenomenon. Many advertisers would believe that if they own the brand, they’re bound to appear at the top of the organic search results without having to pay for those clicks, but this is not always true.

Just as it’s a common tactic to bid on own brand terms so companies might look to bid on the terms of their closest competitors in order to capture some of those clicks and impressions for themselves. This is the first thing that bidding on your own brand terms can protect from - you don’t want people actively searching for your brand to see your competitors’ names appearing in the top spot instead.

Secondly, two is always better than one, and you simply won’t capture all of the clicks with one entry in the organic search results. Having a paid and organic ad appear gives you prominence while allowing you to appear for more specific branded searches your potential customers might use other than your brand name.

In conclusion

Ultimately, PPC is a unique channel that gives you the possibility of reaching people right in the moment when they’re actively searching for what you offer. It is, however, important to invest in paid search marketing wisely for maximum return.

The good news is that when properly executed and optimised accordingly PPC campaigns can be hugely successful. And by avoiding these top mistakes you’ll be well on your way to setting your activity up for success. Happy optimising!