AdWords In The Real World – Dangerous Misperceptions

I’ve had a few things happen this week that have me thinking a lot about this topic – just how bad are some of the misconceptions businesses have about AdWords? And what, if anything, as search professionals can we do about them?

It started with this week’s PPC Chat where this topic was addressed a bit in response to one of the questions and has continued with some client interactions, as well as my long professional history with this stuff. What really got me going on this post though was an article forwarded to me, written by an “AdWords Expert” that just made my head hurt and had me wanting to weep for poor clients who might use view these kinds of things as gospel.

So just what are the misconceptions “out there” about AdWords (which is the Kleenex of paid search for laypersons, it seems!)? I thought I’d break them into two main categories:

  1. Whether or not AdWords (paid search) works
  2. Articles and posts by “experts” touting specific notions about how to either “do it right” or game the system

Does AdWords or Paid Search Work?

Let’s tackle the first one – businesses’ perception about the inherent effectiveness of AdWords or paid search. I posed the question on Twitter as to what others’ experiences have been when it comes to encountering clients or potential clients who come to the table with the notion that “AdWords just doesn’t work”. I have encountered this attitude often, it seems perhaps others less so. When I talk with someone who has this attitude, I always want to know precisely why they think this is so. By and large, the answers I’ve heard are all something along these lines – “Well, Google set up a campaign for us and we tried it for about a month or two and it didn’t do anything for us, so we stopped.” Sigh…

To be fair, I have also encountered organizations that have had success with paid search and those who are of mixed feelings about its success for their business. But, it is the vast swath of the uninformed or at least barely literate in the language of paid search that concern me the most. It is these people that I so desperately want to reach with an accessible and correct message.  And, it is this – paid search can be an incredibly powerful tool to drive your business forward and significantly contribute directly to its growth. When done well, I have seen it do amazing things, as have many of the PPC pros I know. But the key to that statement is “when it is done well”. Doing paid search well, and for the sake of this article we will focus on AdWords, takes a concerted effort, as well as time and money. See my post on “What Should PPC Cost (To Do Right)?” for more on that.

I feel like a broken record on this, but it needs to be said until everyone hears it and understands it. Having Google set up your account is not “doing it well”. And, I am sure there are exceptions to this statement. But, generally speaking, having a qualified and experienced professional work on your PPC will yield better results for your business than having Google do it. Another of my popular refrains – Google’s interests and your interests are not completely aligned when it comes to AdWords. Having them build and manage your account is NOT a true test of whether AdWords COULD be effective for your business, or even really HOW effective it could be.

To answer the question I posed – Does AdWords work? Absolutely AdWords (and paid search more generally) works in many, many complex circumstances. The key is giving it a fighting chance to prove its worth (or not)! And because it does not work or work equally well for every situation, only by setting it up for maximum potential success can you really reach a valid conclusion for your organization.

“Expert” Articles Offering Specific Notions About How to “Do It Right” or Game the System

The article that inspired this part of this post was on Forbes, a very popular business site, and it had been viewed over 34,000 times when I viewed it. It essentially boiled down AdWords success to an oversimplified formula using Quality Score and bid amounts. I don’t really want to link to it because I don’t want to send more views to it, but you can read it here (and I strongly suggest viewing it Incognito, as Forbes runs an astonishing 78 tags on their site and actually locked up my browser).

When I tweeted the link to PPC pros, with the question as to whether articles like this help or hurt laypersons (clients) perceptions of paid search and how it works, the responses were definitive:


Problem is, how are non-pros supposed to know the difference? I suppose, the answer is they don’t. They see an article or post by someone who is either a self-described paid search expert or they are “AdWords Certified” which to clients really does imply solid expertise. We’ve even had our own debates on this topic about how to evaluate posts, presentations and articles as professionals!

While looking for information about something else today, I found another article on Forbes that was equally dismaying to a search pro and this one has over 117,000+ views and was written by someone who speaks at big search conferences. If we’re lucky, clients or prospective clients ask us directly about this stuff. When they do, it provides an opportunity to educate them about how paid search really works. No BS. No spin. No promise of magic beans. No nonsense.

I have to wonder though how many of the 34,000+ who read this piece or the 117,000+ who read the other piece ran its advice or strategy suggestions by a PPC pro? I strive to make PPC education and understanding part of every single project I work on. We all benefit from having clients who actually understand how PPC really works and just what it can and cannot do. 

How Can We as PPC Pros Combat This?

I’m putting this question to you, my wonderful PPC colleagues and friends. What, as an industry, can we do to work against these misconceptions? I really do feel it is in all of our best interests to do so. The more well-informed clients there are, the more we can do to help them maximize their potential within the paid search space. 

What do you think? What, if anything, should we try to do about this? As always, sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter (@NeptuneMoon).


  1. Thanks for the interesting read Julie! I already regret clicking on that Forbes article hah! I recently wrote a detailed post addressing the misconceptions people have about why AdWords does not work: These are the most common arguments I’ve heard from client’s losing faith in the power of paid search, but like you said, they’re most likely just doing it wrong. Let me know your thoughts.

    • Neptune Moon says:


      Appreciate your thoughts. Your post hits the nail on the head quite well too!

      I suppose we can continue to make incremental progress if we all keep educating clients one at a time.

  2. Great article – and one which I fear we will repeat in one guise or another for the foreseeable future.

    I have written (often) about the principal issue with AdWords as I see it – that being that the business model is essentially flawed. You cannot sell a service to customers knowing that it will not work for them “out of the box”.

    It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how closely you follow Google’s recommendations (actually – scratch that – if you follow their recommendations things will probably be worse) – if you set up a new Adwords account with no training or experience you are most likely going to lose money. It is akin to letting a complete novice sit in on a high stakes poker table in a World Championship – what’s going to happen?

    You are right – there are already plenty of people out there telling anyone who will listen that AdWords doesn’t work. It’s a scam. It’s a waste of money.

    When that number reaches critical mass Google has a trust issue – with their own customers.

    There are so many layers to a successful AdWords campaign. I, like you I am sure, often inherit under-performing AdWords campaigns from frustrated businesses who either tried to set up the account themselves (Google told us it was a simple process) or had Google do this for them (obvious conflict of interest). An basic audit will often expose a range of settings that are hampering any success. Often default settings.

    You ask, What can we as an industry do? Unfortunately, I think we may only be able to keep picking up the pieces. That, and taking advantage of our expertise to put our clients ahead of the “do it yourself” pack.

    • Neptune Moon says:


      You are probably right that things are not likely to change dramatically. I’d mentioned the other day that Google has obviously not hit their tipping point for churn in AdWords to become a significant problem. There must still be enough new accounts starting to offset ones that stop. But, that can’t continue forever.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Great blog!

    Looking at the other articles this Forbes guy has written gives you an idea of what kind of spin he’s trying to put on everything.

    AdWords will have a stigma against it for a long time. I work with a lot of small, industrial, non-digital savvy companies who did try AdWords years ago. However since there was no quality score at the time and few people knew how to manage an account, they spent a lot money and got almost nothing back from it. Since saving a penny is huge to the blue-collar audience, they only wanted to do SEO to save on costs. A good amount of them have come back to PPC (hence me working on them) but there are still a lot of businesses who think it’s a scam.

    Another way to look at it is realizing how many massive companies, with huge budgets, have no idea what they’re doing. Kirk Williams (@PPCKirk) and I were talking about this at HeroConf. He made the statement (paraphrasing here so sorry if it’s not exact Kirk!) that he’s surprised big companies don’t send recruiters to these conferences to steal really good talent. I agree completely, but this just shows that many companies out there have no clue about PPC.

    So now we have CEOs or Marketing VPs (with no experience in digital) reading these blogs from big-time magazines and accepting them as the truth. It’s more than educating our clients because if they’re clients, we’ve already convinced them somewhat. It’s got to be about convincing the non-believers, the SEO only audience, or the people who have no idea what PPC is.

    So Julie, when is your rebuttal article going to be published on Forbes?

    • Neptune Moon says:


      Thanks for your kinds words! I might have to start writing for more generalized audiences because there is so much bad or misinformation circulating out there. Not only does it make our jobs tougher at times, but it is hurting businesses who could be taking advantage of PPC.

      I think – and I say this as someone who has been in the internet marketing business for a long time – that PPC is at a really interesting point in its evolution. For so many years, it was all SEO, all the time and paid was something that was either not done or done as more of an afterthought for most organizations. I know, I came from the SEO world!

      But, so much has changed in the last 5 or so years. Between a completely different economy post 2008, Google’s all out assault on SEO and the explosive growth of mobile web viewing, in my mind it has never been a better time to work in paid search. I feel like we as paid search professionals are starting to reach the level of sought-afterness that SEOs enjoyed in the 2000s.

      Good news for us? As SEO gets harder and harder to do (and make no mistake, it is!), businesses will have to have some type of paid search strategy in place. I am hopeful that we can help clients and non-clients alike better understand paid search so they can make intelligent decisions.

  4. Great post Julie.

    I wrote a post in 2007 on, yes almost 8 years ago!

    It’s still applicable today. The title says it all “If Paid Search Isn’t Working Then You’re Doing Something Wrong” –>

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