Should you “Add new keywords to get your ads in front of more potential customers”?

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If you’ve got an AdWords account, you may have come across this helpful suggestion from Google:

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Click on the suggestion, and Google will suggest that you should “Add new keywords to get your ads in front of more potential customers”. Everyone wants that, right? Google is even so helpful that it sorts these suggested keywords into the right ad group. And if you don’t have the right ad group, it will even create one for you.

Isn’t that fantastic?

Well, not always.

Let’s assume you have a nicely ordered little AdWords campaign. You know what your budget is (and it’s not infinite), you’re careful with your keywords and you have a decent idea which keywords get you the right traffic – visitors most likely to ‘convert’, to buy from you, book with you, whatever.

If you blindly follow Google’s suggestion, you will add a ton of broad match keywords that probably are nowhere near as effective as the keywords you’ve been working on (or your Google Partner agency has been working on). What are ‘broad match’ keywords? They are keywords without [square brackets] (those are ‘exact match’), and without “inverted commas” (those are ‘phrase match’) and without +signs (‘modified broad match’). A broad match keyword can look like this:

hotel deals cornwall

Now that keyword can trigger your ad if someone searches for ‘hotel deals cornwall’. However, it can also trigger your ad if someone searches for ‘cornwall hotels’,  ‘spa hotel newquay’ or ‘hotel in sussex’ or ‘cheap deals cornwall b&b’. Or even ‘best supermarket deals’.

One of the smaller clients we do some AdWords management for is the wonderful Oceanic Hotel in Falmouth, Cornwall*. This is a relatively small business with a relatively small PPC budget and a specific niche – they are a super-luxurious apartment hotel. They get us to manage their campaigns – just an hour a month. (Unlike a lot of Google Partner agencies, we won’t turn our noses up at clients with smaller budgets – and we we can get good results with a few hours of ‘rescue’ followed by semi-regular optimisation and monitoring.)

Now when I came to do my monthly optimisation hour recently, my jaw dropped. This had been quite a nice little campaign. Because we were targeting a specific niche, the keywords were all very tightly focused on that niche. There were no unmodified broad match keywords. I was very confident that the client’s budget was being spent on people who were potential customers. The clickthrough rate had been above 9%.

But now it was below 1%!

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My reaction was probably the same as any other PPC consultant in this situation. Something like this:

OMG! WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?!?

So I checked my notes. (I always keep very careful detailed notes of what I do to an AdWords campaign. The AdWords interface has a change log, but it’s not detailed enough to really understand what changes will have caused changes in performance.)

I hadn’t done anything to the campaign at the point when it started performing badly.

So I checked the change log. hadn’t changed anything, but the client had.

Now to be fair, the client is perfectly allowed to make changes to his AdWords account. And some of the changes he had made were perfectly sensible ones. However, the one humdinger of a bad idea was following Google’s suggestion to “Add new keywords to get your ads in front of more potential customers”. Previously, the keywords had been things like ‘+boutique +hotel by the sea +cornwall’ and ‘+luxury +hotel +falmouth’. (Putting a +sign in front of a word in a keyword means that the search term has to include that word for it to trigger your ad.) Those keywords remained, but Google’s suggestions included much more mass market broad match keywords like ‘hotel deals cornwall’.

That’s why the clickthrough rate had plummeted.

But is that a problem? After all, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad, not when they see it. True, but very low clickthrough rates mean your keywords will have low quality scores. (That ‘hotel deals cornwall’ keywords had a clickthrough rate of just 0.14%. That’s really low.) And since position on the search results page is a function of quality score and how much you bid, your ads will appear lower down the page (or conversely for a given position on the page, you’ll be paying much more for a click).

Low clickthrough rates are a bad, bad idea.

 

So the next time Google suggests that you “Add new keywords to get your ads in front of more potential customers”, be sceptical. Very sceptical. Trust your Google Partner consultant more than you trust Google…

 

* How wonderful? In my previous job travelling across Europe for a Big 4 accountancy firm with a pretty generous expenses budget, I got to stay in quite a few luxury hotels. None of them (not even the Savoy) was quite as luxurious as The Oceanic. If you’re looking for a luxury boutique hotel in Falmouth, seriously, check it out.

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