If your business’s website isn’t ranking for the keywords you want it to be, you probably set up a Google Ads campaign (or two) so your business appears at the top of the search results while you work on SEO. You read a few Google Ads help articles, watched a few of their video guides, and felt empowered to set up your own campaigns. (Or maybe you just went in and figured it all out on your own.)

Marketing your business is a step in the right direction, and Google Ads is a great tool that can help you grow your business. However, you can end up wasting hundreds (or thousands) of dollars a month if your campaigns are poorly configured.

Here are nine common mistakes businesses make and how to avoid them:

1. You Have Unorganized Ad Groups With a Ton of Keywords

The Google Analytics icon carries a bag that says big bag o' generic keywords

Have an ad group labeled “generic keywords”? Uh oh. Or maybe you had an ad group that did have a strong theme, but over time you kept adding new keywords and now it houses, well, almost everything.

Take a hard look at your ad groups and ask yourself: do my ad groups have a tight theme? Does it make sense if people search for any of the keywords in my ad group for them to see the same ad? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then you need to split out your keywords into more ad groups. Even if the keywords are synonyms (e.g. “criminal lawyer” and “defense lawyer”), it’s a good idea to split them out into different ad groups so you can easily see what performs better and then optimize accordingly.

Generic Ad Group

“defense lawyer”
“criminal lawyer”
“dui lawyer”
“assault lawyer”
“sexual assault lawyer”

Themed Ad Group

[dui lawyer]
[dui lawyer edmonton]
“dui lawyer”
+dui +lawyer +edmonton

Organizing your ad groups into themes also ensures that your ad copy and landing page align with what the user is searching for. In the above example, you wouldn’t want people searching for “dui lawyer” to see a generic ad about criminal lawyers — instead you’d create ads about your experience with DUI cases that points to a page about DUI law. Set yourself up for success — create well-themed ad groups!

2. You Chose the Wrong Keyword Match Type

Google Analytics icon holds two signs that read broad match and exact match

Broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, exact match… so many match types! Google wants you to use broad match, because they’ll make more money. Broad match can be used for finding new keywords you want to bid on, but don’t start your campaigns with all broad match keywords. (You might as well be using AdWords Express.) Instead, have a separate campaign with a small budget dedicated to finding new keywords with broad match. Ideally, you would have done keyword research to figure out what keywords you want to bid on, so using broad match wouldn’t be needed anyways.

Broad match keywords: edmonton restaurant, restaurant for sale in edmonton, restaurant supply edmonton

Broad match modifier is a lot better than its broad match cousin, as you’ll only appear for search terms with the keywords you designate with the + sign. But watch out, broad match modifier can be dangerous, especially if the keywords you’ve chosen are still very broad (for example, if you bid on +buy +condo, you’ll come up for everything from “buying vs renting a condo” to “how much is it to buy a condo in nyc”). Sometimes keyword order matters, and that’s when phrase match comes in handy.

Exact match is another great match type to choose, although exact match is not true to its name anymore — your ads can also appear for close variations or searches that match the intent of the keyword.

To see what search terms your ads are triggering, you can select the keyword and then view the search terms report for that specific keyword instead of the entire ad group.

The Google Ads dashboard showing search terms for vet + richardson

This will help you evaluate whether you need to change match types — if you have to consistently add negative keywords, then consider changing the match type if you can’t keep it under control and are spending a lot of money on search terms you don’t want to appear for.

Don't fall behind in the fast-paced world of marketing!

3. You’re Not Using Negative Keywords Enough (Or Properly)

Google Analytics icon holds a stick pointing at a No Keyword icon

Negative keywords are keywords you don’t want your ads to appear for, and you can add them at the campaign level or at the ad group level. If you’re running multiple campaigns and you want them to have the same negative keywords, you’ll want to create a negative keyword list so you can apply that list to all campaigns — this way you’re only maintaining one list which makes it easier to keep track of and manage your negative keywords.

To find negative keywords in your Google Ads account, look at your keywords and then click search terms at the top — here you’ll be able to see what people searched for when they clicked on your ad. Ideally, before you start running your campaigns, you would have added negative keywords that you don’t want to appear for such as “free”, “pictures”, and “craigslist”. Check out this list of negative keywords to consider adding to your campaigns.

Scenario: Let’s just say you’re a plumber and you have +plumber +edmonton as a keyword. It looks like it’s performing well when you look at the keyword report — you’re getting a ton of clicks. But then you look at search terms report and find out that you’ve actually been appearing for keywords like “plumber jobs in edmonton” and “plumber salary edmonton”. Oh no! You forgot to add jobs and salary as negative keywords, so you add them immediately.

In this scenario, they’ve looked at the search terms report and added negative keywords that they’ve seen. Job done? Nope!

Negative keywords work a bit differently compared to the keywords you target. You also need to ask yourself, “Are there any other synonyms, misspellings, or other close variations? Do I have both the singular and the plural version of the keyword?”

Using the above scenario, you’d want to think about other words that you don’t want to appear for that are related to “jobs” and “salary”, so you don’t waste money on them in the future. For example, you’d want to add job and salaries as negatives (the singular and plural counterparts) as well as other keywords related to jobs such as career, careers, hire, and hiring. You could even go one step further and add negative keywords like “resume” and “interview” — you might not think that someone would search for plumber resume examples, but someone will.

Save yourself from spending money on irrelevant clicks. Use negative keywords!

4. You Only Have One Ad Per Ad Group (And The Copy Could Use Some Work)

Illustration of the Google Analytics icon sitting sleeping beside boring Google Ad text that reads: Party Catering Company, Low prices, good food. Book your party catering with us, we are very good.

Google recommends having at least three ads in each ad group — if your ad rotation is set to optimize, it will choose your best performing ads to appear more often. Having only one ad doesn’t give Google’s machine learning technology the chance to prioritize ads that are expected to perform better.

Even if you have three or more ads, you still might not be seeing great results. What’s wrong? Take a hard look at your ad copy. Is it compelling? Is it clear? Is there a CTA? Remember to write for your audience, use emotional triggers to your advantage, and emphasize why people should choose your business.

A Google search result shows ad copy for Party Catering.

Also do a few quick Google searches to see how your competitor’s ads look like compared to yours. Is their offer better? Is their copy more enticing? Learn from your competitors and adjust your ad copy.

5. You’re Not Taking Advantage of Ad Extensions

Google Analytics icon stands confused beside five signs that say Callouts, Call, Sitelinks, Location, and Price

So you’ve created ads, that’s great! But Google Ads offers many more opportunities to make your ad stand out. If you add these extensions, it doesn’t guarantee that they will appear (they may appear in different combinations, or not at all if your quality score is low) but when they do show, your ads will yield higher CTRs!

Types of Extensions:

  • Callouts: Use callouts to highlight important information such as features or benefits. What makes your business unique? Do you offer free shipping? Is your service fast? Do you offer same-day repairs? Include it as a callout!
  • Sitelinks: Add links to related pages on your site, such as pricing, how to contact you, related services/products, etc. You might be thinking, “But why would I want people to go anywhere but my landing page?” Don’t worry — people are still going to mostly click on your ad headline. Sitelinks give searchers an idea of what other relevant information they can find on your site.
    • Tip: to check how your sitelinks are performing, segment by This Extension vs Other.
  • Call: Want people to call your business? Add the call extension! You can schedule it to appear only during business hours, so you don’t get calls when you’re not there to answer the phone. This extension is clickable on mobile, but just appears as text on desktop.
  • Structured Snippets: This extension is great, but there are some limitations with it because it has a limited selection of choices for the header. If you don’t see something on the list that works for you, try using “Types” and include a list that relates to your ad.
  • Location: If you’re a local business, the location extension is a must. All you have to do is connect Google Ads with Google My Business! The extension will show searchers your address, phone number, and when you’re open. People can click on your location to open up your listing on Google Maps.
  • Price: Price is a sticky subject for some companies, but if price is your competitive advantage, consider using the price extension to highlight the price of your product or service.
  • Promotion: Have a sale? Highlight it with the promotion extension! You can use this extension to let searchers know that you have a 20% off sale for a limited time, and you can add a promo code if you want.
  • Message: If you have the capability, and if it makes sense for your business, this extension enables people to text you straight from your ad.
  • App: The least-used extension. If you have an app, you can have it appear underneath your ad with a call-to-action to download it.

Make your ad stand out with ad extensions. Which ad would you click?

A Google search results page that shows ad extension examples for dentist in Edmonton

Ad extensions have a huge impact on CTR! Remember to set up your ad extensions, but don’t set and forget. Review, test, and see what performs best.

Check-in on your extensions often to ensure that they’re approved and running! Sometimes Google’s system will erroneously flag an extension as limited due to their policy. It often makes mistakes — contact their support to get your extensions up and running again. Also check that your sitelinks aren’t disapproved due to the destination not working!

6. You Kept "Include Google Display Network" Checked

Google Analytics icon separates a Google Display Network character and a Search Campaign character

By default, Google will keep “Include Google Display Network” checked when you go to set up a search campaign. This is good for Google, but bad for you.

Always keep search campaigns separate from display. By including display with search, you’re sacrificing control — and if there is one thing you want to be extra careful with, it’s giving Google too much control. Plus, when checking “include Google Display Network”, you’ll strictly be showing text ads on the display network — you can’t show image ads, which perform a lot better.

Keep search and display separate. Enough said.

7. You Skipped Over The Advanced Location Settings

The Google Analytics icon uses a stick to point at the globe

So, you set your campaign to target the city you’re located in. Don’t stop there! Click “Location options” to expand a very important targeting feature.

Location settings in Google Ads with one radio button selected

Ask yourself: do I want people from other states, provinces, or countries to see my ads? The answer is likely no, so select “people in your or regularly in your targeted location” instead.

You can try the recommended setting, but in our humble opinion, this setting is recommended for Google, because they get more of your money. If you choose “People in, or who show interest in, your targeted location”, keep a close eye on the user location report to see if people from outside of your targeted location are converting, or if they’re just costing you money.

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8. Your Landing Page Is Bad

The Google Analytics icon sitting at a desk, looking at a computer screen that says: On sale!, Click Here, Click, and Look

Getting lots of traffic from Google Ads to your site, but no one is converting? It could be that the search terms you’re appearing for don’t have the right intent. But if your keywords are solid, and you’re appearing for relevant searches, it’s time to review your landing page.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the page designed in a way that makes the content easy to read?
  • Are you speaking to your audience (focusing on their wants and needs), or are you talking to yourself (focused on how awesome you are)? Is the content compelling?
  • Does your landing page load fast? (Site speed is important!)
  • Is your site mobile friendly? (We sure hope it is, as Google now primarily crawls and indexes the mobile version of sites!)
  • Does your landing page match your ad copy, or is there a message mismatch?
  • Do you have a clear CTA?

You can have the best Google Ads campaign set up of all time, but a bad landing page will spoil the results. Use FullStory to see how people are interacting with your page and identify where they are getting hung up, and use Google Optimize to A/B test landing page changes to see what performs best.

A frustrated user is recorded thrashing their mouse on a website page.

9. You’re Tracking Conversions That Aren’t Real Conversions

An illustrated Google Analytics icon holds a net while chasing a butterfly with the words fake conversion on the wing

Any of these conversions sound familiar?

  • Visited two pages on your site
  • Scrolled 80% down the page
  • Viewed a specific page

Are any of these things making you money? No. So why are you tracking them as conversions? A conversion should be someone filling out a form, calling you, purchasing a product, or booking an appointment. These things lead to more business, whereas, someone visiting two pages on your site doesn’t make you money.

If you aren’t tracking conversions at all, it can be hard to see how Google Ads is impacting your business. Sure, you turn Google Ads on and you see more leads or sales, but which keywords are performing the best? Which keywords are you spending a lot of money on that just aren’t working? Without conversion tracking, you won’t be able to optimize your campaigns.


Optimizing your campaigns takes time and effort, but in the long run it’s worth it. Google Ads can be the difference between your phone ringing off the hook and your phone never ringing. Ads can bring you more business than you ever thought you’d get, or it can drain your marketing budget in a hurry. You get out of it what you put in — don’t set and forget your campaigns, and don’t blindly trust all of Google’s recommendations (they really want your money).

Don’t have time to manage your campaigns properly and need help fixing them? Get in touch with our agency . We’ll help you do better and you won’t have to sign a long-term contract. Or, if you want to learn how to manage your PPC efforts in-house, we will teach you. Remember, a great thing about Google Ads is that if you get too busy, you can pause your campaigns until you can catch up!

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Black and white portrait of Brittany Zerr

Brittany is a Social Media & Paid Search Specialist at Kick Point. She creates Google Ads strategies, conducts keyword research, writes ad copy, and sets up and manages campaigns. She also loves to write — whether it’s social posts or website content. Brittany is constantly learning — she tunes into #ppcchat on Twitter every Tuesday, reads articles from industry gurus, and regularly attends conferences and events.

Learn more about Brittany