7 Costly Mistakes Small Businesses Make When Optimising Google Ads

7 Costly Mistakes Small Businesses Make When Optimising Google Ads

Google Ads can be an incredibly effective source of leads for small businesses, in fact, over the past 30 days, the small business accounts we’ve managed have converted at an average of 13% or higher. That’s crazy.

Small businesses that succeed with Google Ads know how valuable it is for their business, so why does it often receive such a bad wrap?


A sample of the conversion rate for small business Google Ads accounts we manage.

The truth?

Anybody can set up and run a Google Ads campaign, without the need for any qualifications, but if you’re inexperienced and trying to “wing it” then the odds aren’t in your favour.

Conveniently this being termed in the industry as the “Google Idiot Tax” and applies to people who have set up their account but don’t know what they’re doing.

Strangely, Google doesn’t tell you when you’re wasting your Ads budget, I wonder why, but in fairness, it’s not Google’s responsibility to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. If you buy a bike and use the pedals with your hands, is that your fault or the manufacturers?

Is Google Ads The Problem?

I often hear prospects say that Google Ads doesn’t work but here’s the thing – 9 times out 10 accounts I review are poorly setup from the start which means most would have a better chance winning the lottery then you would generating a ROI from Ads.

It was only recently I read an article from the SMH which highlighted the conflicting views of business owners and their opinions on the effectiveness of Ads for small business.

Elisha, one of the business owners in the article, highlights that “She hired an agency to help with a campaign, budgeting $1500 a month Ad spend plus agency fees” sounds ok right?

The result was zero sales. So what was the problem?

Elisha’s did the right thing and tried to find experienced help rather than go it alone but unfortunately, without more information it’s impossible to know why it wasn’t a successful campaign.

There could be a number of factors for poor performance:

I hate to say it, but many agencies are clueless, overworked and inexperienced and you can still end up paying the Google Idiot Tax. The online marketing industry isn’t regulated which means anybody can say they’re a guru. It’s pays to do the research and hire an agency on results / referrals rather than choosing the first agency you find.

The entry bar to be a Google Partner is very low.

Secondly it might have been the product or business model too. In the end the market decides who stays and who goes and

Thirdly, it’s often the business owner themselves who get in the way and become blinded by their own creativity. They fuss over things like the colour of buttons when in fact it’s the price of products, return policies or just making the site feel trustworthy.

Finally, Google Ads benefits from long-term campaigns in the same way that SEO does. The mistakes and resolutions we provide below need to occur consistently so that you’re always monitoring your campaigns for wasted spend and eliminate it wherever you can.

In this article we’re going to highlight some of the critical mistakes small businesses make and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1: Infrequent Logins

A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them. – Liberty Hyde Bailey


Contrary to what you’ve heard, Google Ads is not instant ROI service but your Ads can be almost instantly available. PPC, in general, can be a tough nut to crack for small business because it’s something that gains strength from continuous testing and knowing your data.

Just like a garden, your Ads account will thrive because someone expended effort with patience, labor and attention so that it can grow.

In 2013 Search Engine Journal reported that small businesses were optimising their campaign only once per quarter and only 1% of small business advertisers made changes every week. It’s no wonder Small Businesses are struggling to see the results they envisioned.

Mistake #2: Not structuring your campaign

Creating one campaign with just one ad group and including all your keywords herein is a surefire way to waste a lot of money. Google Ads is all about relevance and relevance is created with campaign structure.

Relevance in Google Ads is called Quality Score and it’s ranked on a scale of 1 to 10. If Google believes your ad and landing page are relevant and useful to someone looking at your ad then you’ll receive a higher quality score.

Quality score can influence both the rank and cost per click (CPC) of your ads so you need to pay attention to it.

When you put all of your keywords into a single Ad Group you’re losing relevance, reducing click-through rates and potentially increasing your cost per click.

Instead you want to break down your keywords into specific and tight Ad Groups. Believe it or not the difference between someone searching “plumbing fremantle” and “plumbing services” is significant, make sure your Ads are relevant.


Mistake #3: Using the wrong keyword match type

If you’re only using Broad Match keywords, the standard match type, you’ll end up giving Google more money than you actually have to.

Most small businesses aren’t aware that there are different keyword match types and by using broad match you’re automatically broadcasting ads on irrelevant search terms.

Broad Match has an expansion option that lets Google show your ads for pretty much anything they find remotely relevant.

A keyword like lawn care services in Broad Match can enable your ads to be shown for the following queries:

  • lawn moving job
  • how to mow a lawn
  • cut grass when it rains
  • spring clean up services
  • lawn mover maintenance
  • blade cutters

You’re making a big mistake if you let Google have all the control for how, when and where your adverts show. People will click on anything given the chance and when you pay-per-click it can add up quickly if you pick the wrong match type.

So what can you do? Using Broad Match Modifier, instead of the regular Broad Match, is a good way to ensure that you’re only paying for the most relevant clicks. Basically you’re selecting the “must have” that you need to see in a search query before you allow Google to display your Ad.

For example +plumber +central +coast means you want to show your advert to only when all three of those keywords are used. Therefore your Ad will show on:

  • “plumber central coast”
  • “plumber in central coast”
  • “plumber near central coast”
  • “plumber central coast services”

In the above example we are removing some of Google’s control to show our ads on less relevant terms such as “plumber jobs” or “plumber training”.

Mistake #4: Not using negative keywords

Negative keywords are the holy grail of Google Ads.

Negative keywords can be the single biggest difference between a successful or unsuccessful campaign. It’s a critical component of all of your campaigns and can have a huge impact on conversion rate, quality score, cost per click and click-through rates.

Negative keywords allow us to inform Google about the types of searches that we don’t want to show our Ads, it’s the reverse of what we’ve done so far. Regardless of how well we setup our keyword match types inevitably we’re still going to match on irrelevant terms. Using our prior example +plumber +central +coast example we can see the following matches:

  • “plumber central coast”
  • “plumber supplies central coast”
  • “plumber jobs central coast”

Notice the issue? If we’re offering services to customers then we only want to match for service related searches. Negative keywords allow us to control more precisely so that we can refine and eliminate irrelevant searches and impressions.

Negative keywords can be uploaded in bulk at the start of a campaign and then monitored and updated as the campaign ages.

Mistake #5: Using the wrong display network

“No one would ever think it was a good idea to use a print ad for a television commercial, or confuse a banner ad for a radio spot. Like their traditional media platform cousins, every social media platform has its own language.” ? Gary Vaynerchuk

Google has two major Ad display networks.

  • Search Network displays Ads in “search results”
  • Display network displays Ads on “websites”

More often than not business owners make the mistake of advertising on both only to find that much of their advertising spend goes to wasted clicks in the display network.

There are a few reasons why this happens:

  • Firstly, placing a text advert where a visual banner should be is like using a print ad for a television commercial.
  • Secondly, identifying the intent of visitors on websites is much harder than identifying the intent of searches. Therefore campaigns can lose clicks to irrelevant website clicks very quickly.

Both networks have value and can be an effective tool for your business but there should be strict definition between your display and search campaigns.  In most cases we recommended starting with the search network and building a successful search campaign before you look at the display network.

Mistake #5: Using a poorly designed website

Most businesses have completely ignored the fact that your website is a sales tool, it’s not just there to look good and be present. This becomes even more important when you decide to push paid traffic at your site because every click that doesn’t convert is costing you money.

It’s easier to show this problem with a real life example. Here are two websites in the same industry, which one will you choose?


Website number 1 has:

  • Clear call to action
  • Clear contact details including a bright contact form that attracts the eye.
  • Navigation links to their three primary categories of gas ducted, split systems and evaporative cooling
  • Display the brands they work with.

As a visitor to their site it’s very easy to understand what it is that they do and whether it’s relevant to me as a potential customer. Within 5 seconds a click will gain a clear picture of this.

Website number 2 however has tiny contact details and in five seconds it’s much harder to gain a clear picture of what they do. Any paid click will most likely result in a bounce and wasted spend.

You should be taking it one step further too by sending Ad Groups to their own page which is relevant to exactly what the visitor needs.

Mistake #7: Not tracking conversions

The price of light is less than the cost of darkness.  – Arthur C. Nielsen

If I could receive a dollar for every time I’d seen this I’d be a millionaire by now. Do not use Google Ads without first configuring conversion tracking to track enquiries, phone calls, sign ups and whatever else you need.

There is no world where you should you ever convince yourself that not configuring conversion tracking is a good thing.

Data without context is meaningless, context is what turns data into information. It’s that information that will help you understand which areas of your campaign are working and which parts are not. Using conversion tracking you can begin to refine your account to generate the highest quality leads and conversion rates.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Mistake #1 highlights that the bar set by advertisers and small businesses is very low. For you this means that even a small amount of work can make a huge difference and put you ahead of the game. It’s true, anybody can configure a Google Ads campaign but the difference is finding those that can build successful campaigns.

The true art is to generate the desired quality of lead at the highest frequency and for lowest cost per acquisition for each of your campaigns. That doesn’t mean the cheapest leads, it means finding the quality of lead your business needs for the lowest CPA.

If Google Ads isn’t working for your business take a look at each of the mistakes we’ve identified and review whether you or your agency is managing each area effectively.

Google Ads is a digital channel just like Social Media & SEO and therefore it’s up to your business to understand which digital marketing channel is the best for your small business.

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