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Clean Up & Optimize your Account - Learn From 12 Years of AdWords Mistakes

This is part of our "5x5" series, in which we share five tips per week over the course of five weeks. We will share must-have tips about AdWords Editor, account optimization, ad-writing best practices, and much more. Make sure to explore the full series.

I've been doing Goggle AdWords management across an astonishingly huge variety of  accounts for a very long time. I remember when AdWords was not self-serve and I remember my very first campaign. Over the years, I've seen the best and the worst of AdWords management - usually both from myself - and I've made some of the worst, most cringe worthy mistakes imaginable. Many of you will remember that sinking feeling waking up the morning after placing a decimal point in the wrong place before Google implemented a check to protect us from ourselves. This post is about those AdWords management mistakes and will hopefully allow you to learn from them, clean them up this week, and get an amazing new lease on life from your account. So here's what I did and why I believe they were mistakes:


Not Automatically Auditing an Account



This one is for all you folks out there who don't like to learn the hard way. I'm that unique brand of lazy and clumsy, the kind that gets me into trouble all the time. It's a trait that is unacceptable when you manage other people's money (with a guarantee/bond though!) so I need to protect myself and my team from mistakes that all humans are prone to. Over the years, I've had typos in URLs or set incorrect bid modifiers live before I've gone to bed and up until a few years ago, that always ended badly. Since the introduction of scripts, I've been able to offset those risks considerably and generate huge performance wins from gains in productivity. Setting up a "template" of rules for your account to obey, no matter what, can be the difference between disaster and an inconvenient, annoying email. Learn how to set up your own AdWords account "command and control center" here. I placed this first as many of the the mistakes in this article can be prevented using this auditor. Do yourself a favour and implement it today.


Not Using Labels




Labels are the lifeblood of modern account management. For those of you using them, can you remember life without them? For those new to AdWords, it meant some very tricky hackery. Even still, sometimes, in a rush to set things up, I'll often times forget to spend the extra few seconds it takes to add a label and to my detriment, fail to remember to add it after. If your bids, AdWords Editor filters, bidding rules, or automation are based on labels, you need to make sure you get these right. Spend a bit of time creating a logical label hierarchy or system that makes sense to your business and a whole new world of power opens up to you in both AdWords and AdWords scripts. If you're not using labels, you really should be, so get moving


Not using alerts and GA intelligence




It took me a while to really see the benefit in this one. One of the biggest problems when you make an AdWords mistake is that you always find out about it way too late. If only there was a way to make yourself aware of your mistakes (or even your successes) in real time so that you can take action. Well, that's where Intelligence Events come in. Intelligence Events will make you aware of even the slightest discrepancy in your traffic or your user behaviour. There's even built-in support for automated AdWords alerts so you'll never miss a beat. You can create custom alerts for every possible segment and behaviour. So while it's a great way to keep on top of your AdWords account, it's also a great way to make the business owner aware of any fantastic new scores!


Ignoring Display & Video



I'll admit it, I'm a search maximalist. I'm comfortable with search. I understand why others are too. The Display Network can be a pain and uncomfortable to use. It's more an art than a science and it requires more work. But trust me, it works. You need to be dedicated and aggressive, but it's the one feature I've found that offers the greatest opportunity because most of your competitors are ignoring it for the same reasons too. I spent years ignoring display and video, even recommending that clients avoid it. However, Google provides some really advanced targeting tools to fine tune your campaigns, so I implore you to give it another try. The thoughts of all the traffic and conversions I've missed over the years makes me sad. Don't make the same mistake.


Assuming I Have the Best Performing Ad/Structure/Landing Page




This is one that I'm still guilty of. There's no such thing as your best performing ad, whether you judge that on CTR, conversions or even assists. You can always do better. You should always at least be split testing your ads (never leave an ad on it's own in an ad group, it should always have at least one mate!). If you're already doing that, you need to be trying out campaign experiments. If you're already doing that, you need to start playing with the new drafts & experiments feature being rolled out if you can. It's super fun and the results will make you question your judgement each and every day. 


Not Communicating Changes


This is another that I'm still, sadly, guilty of. There's no way to tag your changes with notes or annotations inside AdWords. While AdWords Editor allows notes on changes and accounts, these are not propagated and the only way to share them is by sharing account exports. Not very viable with an account that's managed by more than one person, and that wasn't what the feature was built for. The best way to communicate changes is to import them automatically into a project management tool like TeamWork or Asana. What I've found easiest in some situations is to simply download the change history report manually (or import it using scripts or the API) and paste it into a shared Google Spreadsheet so you can annotate the changes there. This is particularly helpful if there are multiple people working on the same account and even more useful if you want to keep the account's Google rep aware of the changes you are making. 

Not Geo-Targeting Around Physical Store Locations




Fixing this mistake was a game changer for me. For years I manually targeted radii, zip codes or regions around customer locations. It took me a long time to figure out the beauty and power of being able to target a certain distance around only the locations in my locations data feed. It's super simple to do and you can add this specific targeting as a targeting option on top of your regular targeting so you can test how this handy targeting option compares against the whole country, for example. I would really encourage you to check it out and at least try it in one campaign today. 


Not Testing New Features Soon Enough




I've saved the biggest mistake until last. It's one I still make too. AdWords has a steady flow of new features. In a lot of instances, I write a new feature off as a new trinket, or an addition to the "bells and whistles". I'm universally wrong on this front. As an AdWords Trusted Tester, I can tell you that all features released by AdWords are incredibly well tested in advance by a lot of people. When a new feature or targeting tool is released by Google, it really does pay to jump in immediately as it's a race against your competitors to optimize using the new feature first. Sometimes you get lucky and your competitors don't bother, but more often than not, you can get an incredibly huge advantage over your competitors by simply learning and trying out the new products and features as they arrive. The AdWords YouTube Channel and of course the official AdWords Blog are the must-subscribes in order to stay that one step ahead of your competitors. On a few occasions the first time I've seen a new AdWords feature was when I saw a competitor using it. Don't be like me, don't make that mistake. 

So there you have it. My biggest mistakes and how you can avoid making them yourself. What mistakes have you made on the list? What have you made that are not on the list? Stay tuned for the next in the Spring Cleaning series tomorrow!


about Dave Davis

Skydiving and travel obsessed. Director of digital marketing agency Redfly, based in Dublin, Ireland. An marketing agency that specializes in AdWords management, Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.

Kita E Badged Google Partner
May 2016

 Great share! There have been so many changes over the last little while that it's been tought to come check into Google Partners but I'm so happy to come and see this. With 10 years of experience in this industry, we still really need to be on our toes and I appreciate the feedback you've shared here. Thank you!

Dave_Davis Top Contributor
May 2016

Thanks Kita!

Totally agree. It's tough to keep up. As I mentioned in my article today, when you have a finely tuned account that's relying quite heavily on automation, it's easy to get complacent and forget that there's new features popping up all the time. It's important to test everything to make sure we're not missing out on something our competitors know about because they're more alert.