Breaking Down AdWords’ Best Practices Guide

Well, it seems only fitting to write this post after my mini hiatus this winter… Google has released a “Best Practices” guide for AdWords aimed at business owners. I put best practices into quotes for a very specific reason – if you follow many of these so-called best practices, you will be running insanely inefficient and expensive campaigns. And for this, AdWords sincerely thanks you!

This kind of stuff drives me absolutely crazy. For one, this is precisely the type of information that clients get ahold of that makes the job of true paid search professionals more difficult than it needs to be.  And secondly, and even more importantly, it does not actually help businesses who try to manage AdWords without the help of a professional do it well. And about that, I get angry. Documents like this contribute to the unnecessarily common refrain from many businesses that “paid search doesn’t work” because if you follow this advice, that will probably be the conclusion you derive from your AdWords experiment.

You can find the full PDF here, but I’ll highlight the “best” parts.

Shall we begin the dissection?

Keyword Matching

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Are any of us surprised that this guide starts with the advice to use broad match? But, not only does it do that, it does not encourage modified broad match and it specifically says not to use phrase or exact match. WHAT?!? I know there are varying opinions on exactly how valuable phrase and exact match types are these days, with modified broad and the loss of the close variant opt-out, but this kind of advice is galling. Just yesterday on Twitter there was discussion about BingAds dropping “the” from exact match terms and the impact that was/could have.

It goes on:

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Here they imply that broad match is better at showing your ad when people are asking questions and understands user intent better than if you are targeting specific phrases or exact match terms. It is pretty incredible to state that broad terms are better at capturing user intent than an exact match term. Notice too, that nowhere have they talked about conversions or revenue or profit or value for clients, only volume of queries. I’m exhausted and only on page 6 of this puppy.

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Again, emphasis on traffic volume only. Volume alone does not benefit advertisers! Volume alone benefits AdWords. Will there be any information in this guide that might actually help a business advertise effectively FOR THEM in this thing?

But wait, there’s more:

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How about some information for these clients on how to determine “an acceptable level of performance”? How about explaining what negative keywords are and why they are so critically important if you’re running broad match in your account?

 Now on to the “Finding New Opportunities” section.

The Keyword Planner is described as a tool that will provide businesses with not only suggestions for keywords to use in their campaigns (all broad match, naturally) but also with volume estimates. These poor businesses will have no idea that the Estimated Traffic figures are worthless and will get excited about all of the clicks that will be rolling in once they enable their shiny new accounts with all of AdWords’ suggestions!

But, this is my favorite part:

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Once again, their big advice? Add more broad match terms! Good lord, this is starting to give me a headache. Is there no one at AdWords who will even stipulate that broad match is not always the best option? More is not always better, especially when clicks are expensive.

Next up? Expanding the Reach of Existing Keywords

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First, the Ad Rank improvements, guess what their big suggestion is? You guessed it, increase your bids! There are throwaway bullets about increasing Ad Quality and using Extensions, but the main point is to increase those bids!

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Yes, that’s right, your efficiency may suffer, but hey, your ad will be seen more and probably clicked more and that is good for Google. Is that good for your business? Who cares!

So, how will you know by how much you should increase them? Why with the bid simulator, of course. And we all know how accurate that thing is. Ok, so I am borderline livid at this point…

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Just go ahead and put ideas into the Keyword Planner and you’ll get back detailed information about all of the traffic that is out there just waiting to see your ad and always click on it!

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Sadly, non professionals will have no earthly idea that these estimates are not based in reality. They will look at the estimated monthly searches and immediately conclude that if they do what Google is suggesting, they will get, in this case, 260 more clicks each month at a bargain price of only $3.26 each. THIS IT NOT HOW IT WORKS, EVER.

Next “best practice”? Use Search Partners!

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Guess why? Yup, because it boosts impressions! Never mind that you can’t filter where your ads might show up with Search Partners. I swear, this document should be called “How to Spend More with Google AdWords in 10 Easy Steps” instead of being called a “best practices” guide.

Last Section – Negative Keywords

Amazingly, this section actually has some decent advice, though it also seems to encourage using negative keywords, but not going nuts with them, lest you decrease your impressions too much…  At last, finally something I agree with:

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Yes, negative keywords are an essential part of account maintenance! Even when using the less broad types of matching, there are still plenty of instances where your ads will trigger that are not what you want. A perfect example would be job seekers. While their queries may match your desired terms, unless recruitment is one of your PPC goals, most businesses are not interested in paying for clicks by job seekers. Smart use of negatives can keep this from happening.

But, then they walk it back a bit:

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What? Anyone who has spent any time analyzing search query reports will tell you that there will absolutely be terms in every account that you will need to add as negatives that you could never have even imagined would need to be included. And, that these terms would fall into this category described here as “lack of relevance” and yet still caused your ad to trigger AND get clicked. If AdWords’ ideas of close variants are any indication, trusting them to determine a “lack of relevance” is a scary, and potentially expensive, proposition.

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I completely disagree with this advice as well. And, it is also the kind of advice that would lead businesses to continue to let less frequent, but nonetheless worthless, queries continue to generate clicks. If we see queries in the report that are clearly not going to convert, we add them to the negative list. Why wouldn’t you? You’ve already spent the time and seen it, should you really just wait and see if that term starts showing up with “reliable frequency”? After all, user intent is critical to PPC. If we see terms that clearly demonstrate a lack of or incorrect intent for our goals, we want to stop it as quickly as possible.

Strangely, the last bit in this section, seems to agree with this notion, but not their previous advice:

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And, so ends the guide.

I realize that AdWords is a platform that is designed for businesses to advertise on and it not designed for PPC agencies/professionals specifically. But, I want to reiterate that this type of “guide” outlining what the platform itself is designating as “best practices” hurts businesses. It hurts them by giving them advice that is not truly in their best interest and it hurts them by potentially souring them on the entire concept of paid search advertising. And that, is a shame. Do these things make my job harder? Yes, they do. But that is not my main beef with it. Not every business who wants to advertise on AdWords can or even should necessarily work with a PPC pro or have an on-house team. For those who don’t or can’t this type of advice is damaging, and that is inexcusable.

Love to hear your thoughts on this!


  1. Hello,

    Great guide to understand a little better how Adwords works.

    Thanks 🙂

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