Top 5 Sins of Paid Search

  |  June 6, 2011   |  Comments

How to avoid these common mistakes and find the road to redemption.

When doing competitive analysis on behalf of my clients, it never ceases to amaze me how many people are still not getting the basics of paid search right. Sometimes what others do infuriates me, sometimes it makes me laugh, but most often it makes me want to point out the obvious.

So today I wanted to point out the top things not to do - the top five deadly sins of paid search (according to me). So please forgive me if some of these are rather obvious, but my hope is that I can convert some search sinners into saviors.

Sin No. 1: Bidding on Keywords That Are too Broad or too Loosely Linked to Your Business

Common sense says that you should only pay for keywords that are relevant to your target audience and that you can realistically deliver on. If you're an outdoor landscaping company, for example, bidding on terms such as "home renovation" is likely going to result in a lot of irrelevant traffic.

Road to redemption: When conducting keyword research, put your keywords through a filter: is this what I specialize in? Does this accurately describe the business? Then, once you launch the campaign, make sure you have the right analytics in place so you can see what is really driving qualified traffic and converting, and continue to weed out those terms that aren't performing.

Sin No. 2: Pointing Your Ads to the Home Page

The most effective search campaigns will deliver users to the most relevant page on the website according to a users' search…which coincidentally is not typically the home page. The home page also forces the user to click further to get to what they're looking for, rather than giving it to them right away.

Road to redemption. Choose the page on your site that most closely matches each keyword or ad group. If you don't have an existing page on your site, you should first consider the filter in no. 1, but if it passes that gut check, then you may want to consider creating a page to meet this unmet need. A landing page may also be useful in situations where it's challenging to add new pages to an existing site architecture.

Sin No. 3: Employing Generic Ad Copy

Not customizing your ad copy to the query relates to no. 2 above. Not only do you want to drive your audience to a relevant destination, you won't get anyone there if your ad doesn't "speak" to them. If you want to maximize relevancy and click-through on your ads, you need to make sure they are as closely linked as possible to the keyword the user enters.

Road to redemption: Start by creating narrowly-focused ad groups with closely related keywords. Then customize your ads to each ad group, making sure to include the keyword in the ad (preferably in the headline).

Sin No. 4: Using Search for Brand Building

Paid search is not a brand awareness tactic, it's a direct response tactic. Going back to our landscaping example, here is an example of a "brand building" ad (which I made up):

Dallas Design Brothers
"Building Your Personal Paradise"
Dallas area landscaping company

There is nothing horribly wrong in this ad, it's just that it likely won't compel a user into action. Instead of using the ad copy to motivate the user, it uses the precious characters to communicate the company name and marketing slogan.

Road to redemption: Consider what the potential needs or motivations are of your target audience. Then think about what action you want them to take. Your ad copy and call to action should balance the users' needs with your business objectives. It should be clear what you have to offer and what the user can do when they get to your site.

Consider something along these lines:

Landscaping Service
Looking for outdoor landscape design?
View our portfolio or request a quote!

Sin No. 5: Always Bidding Into the Number One Position

The number one spot isn't a bad thing, but the goal of your paid search efforts shouldn't be solely attaining the top spot. The number one position not only is typically more costly, but it sometimes doesn't even convert as well as perhaps position three or four. If you're bidding into the number one spot because you find it drives the most qualified and engaged visitors, you're doing it for the right reason. If you are bidding into the number one spot purely to beat out your competitors, you're doing it for the wrong reason.

Road to redemption: Don't let your ego (or your executive's ego) dictate where you appear on the page. Ensure that you have a back-end conversion goal set up and the right analytics in place so that you can track which ad position is actually resulting in the most conversions. You may find certain keywords or ad groups actually perform better when you bid into a position that is lower on the page. You can also likely save some money on your click costs.

These are my top five, but I'd love to hear which search sins you'd place in your personal top five. Feel free to share the sins that you've borne witness to in the comments! Just be sure to share your solutions too (what I've called here "road to redemption").


Julie Batten

Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.

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