Profile picture for user Jordan Con

We’re a fast-growing marketing team with the goal to be constantly improving our marketing output. We’ve added new strategies and new marketing channels to our arsenal to match the evolution and maturation of our company; however, because we have to be so scrappy (startup), things sometimes do fall through the cracks.


We recently went through and audited our paid media (mostly PPC) and found that there were many ways in which we could improve. Here are some of our fails, as well as what we’re doing to make our paid media more effective.

Mistake #1: Using ungated content in search promotion

By making a search query that delivers your search ad, the searcher is already showing some degree of consideration and intent. If the search is for your company or a competitor, they’ve already “discovered” you; if the search is for content that delivers your blog post ad, they have a specific problem or question that’s relevant to your solution; if the search is for the category, they already know the area that they are interested in. Because they are typically already past the point of awareness or discovery, search tends to be a middle-funnel activity. Therefore, we should match where they are in the funnel by targeting them with middle-of-the-funnel content, such as ebooks and whitepapers -- gated content.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule (perhaps a competitor comparison page on your website), but in general, search campaigns have a lead gen goal, so use gated content.

Mistake #2: Using a single “brand” campaign on search and display

A brand campaign is a brand campaign is a brand campaign. Right? Wrong. We realized that we were using the same targeting for our Bizible brand campaign for both search and display through AdWords.

Of course you already have separate search and display campaigns for lead gen, but even with brand awareness campaigns it’s important to think about the different contexts that your audience will be viewing your ads. Viewers of your display ad will have a lot less intent, so you need to be thinking of higher-funnel offers and something more broadly eye-catching (not just visually).

By creating two separate brand campaigns, you give yourself the flexibility to set different budgets, experiment with, and optimize for each ad type.

Mistake #3: Using ad hoc naming convention in our campaign and ad group levels.

While we were being scrappy with our paid media, it was also easy to be a little sloppy with things as basic as how we named campaigns, ad groups, audiences, etc. When you’re a small team with few campaigns, you can probably get away with this without too much problem. However, as you grow and get more advanced, it’s important to have a strong foundation -- an easy to use system that can handle all the variations that you’ll want to use in the future.

Using consistent naming convention allows us to add new ad groups and targeting within existing campaigns with no confusion. Just by looking at the names, we’re able to understand exactly what the ad is about and who it is for. If we continued to use ad hoc naming, we could have run into unnecessary audience overlaps or duplicates, which results in wasted ad spend. This is especially true when you have more than one person managing or analyzing your paid media.

Proper naming convention simply makes for easier high level comparison, makes it easy and efficient to add new variations, and allows you to come up with better content insights.

Mistake #4: Promoting all of our content to a general marketing audience

Promoting content based on persona -- e.g. blog posts targeted at CMOs only go to CMO audience -- greatly increases ad relevance and CTR, which results in more conversions and lower CPC. We’ve now set up separate audience groups in LinkedIn for each of our personas and are only promoting relevant content to each audience. It’s a little more work to set up and continue to run, but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Caveat: the benefits depend on the amount of content you produce and if you produce content for multiple audiences/personas.

Mistake #5: Overlapping audience groups in our retargeting campaign

In our AdWords retargeting campaign, we have ad groups set up for specific audiences as well as an always-on broader ad group  for our general audience (all site visitors). However, depending on our goals at any specific time, we may decide to deliver the same ad to both our specific audiences as well as our general audience. The mistake we were making, though, was not excluding the specific audiences from our general audience. Essentially, the people in our specific audiences were being double-targeted. We’ve now made sure to exclude the specific audiences from our general audience. It seems simple, but it is an easy oversight to make.

You may be thinking, Why not just turn the specific audience campaign off? Well, we want both to run because it allows us to get audience-specific analytics. The specific audiences are higher priority for us, so we want to be able to see how the ads perform specifically for them.

Mistake #6: Not excluding immediate bouncers in retargeting campaigns

Retargeting campaigns are a fantastic use of automation. Once you’ve set up the right parameters (retargeting with specific content based on the specific page they’ve visited [link to funnel retargeting blog post]), they are very effective. However, not all site behavior is equal, so it’s worthwhile to limit your retargeting campaign to hit the visitors who are showing true intent. One way we failed to do that was by not excluding immediate bouncers (for example, people who bounce within 10 seconds) for every page. By excluding immediate bouncers, we’re no longer wasting ad spend on people who potentially made an accidental click or who immediately changed their mind about their intent.

Mistake #7: Only excluding “explicit” websites

Within Google’s Display Network, there are still many websites that are not optimal for your ads to be on besides what Google has deemed explicit. For example, our paid media audit found that Bizible ads were being run on TMZ. While not an “explicit” site -- it may even be a site that our target audience goes to -- they don’t go there with the right mindset. They go there to escape work, rather than to think about it.

It’s worthwhile to run placement reports on a regular basis to monitor where your ads are showing so that you can be sure to exclude sub-optimal sites.

Here are some site category exclusions to double-check that your ads aren’t running on: juvenile, gross, & bizarre; profanity & rough language; sexually suggestive; error pages; in-game; mobile apps; parked domains; gambling; death & tragedy; crime; below-the-fold; job-seeker sites (unless it’s a job opening campaign); junk sites; celebrity & viral sites.

Mistake #8: Not excluding mobile apps

One thing to look for, and something that we unfortunately spent a lot of money on, is ads showing up on mobile apps. As the mobile app ecosystem continues to proliferate, it’s easy to accidentally spend a lot of money on mobile app ad clicks, which we’ve found to be really low quality. Through accidental clicks and the audience being in the wrong mindset, it resulted in a lot of wasted spend.

Obviously, if mobile is a crucial aspect of your business, don’t exclude mobile apps altogether. Just think about ways that you can cut down on wasted mobile spend.

Mistake #9: Going general with keywords, then narrowing

Marketers, including us, naturally tend to really want to show up for everything related to their brand, so they start really general with keywords ('marketing analytics' vs 'marketing attribution' for example). The problem with starting general and then narrowing down is that not only will you waste a lot of money on irrelevant queries, you then have to guess which more-specific keywords are effective in order to scale. We are now switching to a strategy where we start narrower, with more broad match modifier (the + identifier), phrase match, and long-tail keywords, and then expand. This gives us more information about every keyword and allows us to cost-effectively grow.

Let’s say you run an apple (the fruit) business. You could start broad with the keyword ‘apple’, which is an expensive keyword because it has a lot of competition -- other fruit companies and the tech goliath that is irrelevant to your business. To optimize, you’d then have to narrow your keywords by going with something like ‘fuji apple’ or ‘green apple’ -- but really, it would be a guess because your ‘apple’ keyword performance doesn’t give you any information about more specific keywords, especially now that AdWords is providing little information on search query data. But if you started with several narrow keywords like “sweet organic apples washington” (phrase match) and “red apples yakima valley” (phrase match) you have a lot more room to expand to broader keywords based on performance. If the first keyword phrase performed better, you could expand towards the root of the long-tail keywords with phrases pertaining to ‘sweet’, ‘organic’, or ‘washington.’ Starting with a more narrow keyword strategy will also improve relevancy, which will improve your CTR and quality score, which will make your clicks cheaper.

Mistake #10: Using broad match keywords

It’s also important to be very intentional about keyword match types to help limit your ad deliverability to people who are really searching for something relevant to you. We found that we were making the mistake of using broad match types (without the modifier) too often and that was leading to wasted ad spend. By switching to exact, phrase, and broad match modifier match types only, we’re able to ensure that more of our impressions and clicks are from people that we actually want.

When it comes to the tech/software sphere (like us), synonyms in the general sense often don’t apply. There’s a specific jargon to our field, where if the word is skewed just a little bit, it can mean something completely different. When it comes to search match types, think about the variations you want to capture (if any) and then pick your match type based on it.

If there is a situation where you definitely want to use a broad match, make sure you do it purposefully and carefully, and have a solid negative keyword strategy.

Bonus Mistake: Not adopting the latest AdWords snippets

AdWords snippets offer advertisers more real estate, and that’s rarely a bad thing. As Google continues to introduce new snippets, it’s important to stay on top of them. When the structured snippet was introduced, we didn’t adopt it, and we’ve missed out on the opportunity to include more information about the content on our website that could have potentially earned more clicks.

Well, that’s just a handful of the mistakes we’ve recently discovered. As we mature as a marketing team and as paid media platforms continue to advance, there will always be ways for us to improve our effectiveness. And as always, every company is different, so some mistakes or strategies may or may not apply or be optimal for your company depending on where your company is at.

I hope this encourages you to take a look at your paid media and gives you some ideas on how to diagnose your well as how to go about fixing them.

This post was edited on October 12, 2015 to emphasize the difference between broad match and broad match modifier (with the +) keyword match types and to change "going broad" with "going general."