last Updated 15 April 2024

6 Common Google Ads Mistakes That Could Be Costing You a Fortune

Google Ads – Google’s pay-per-click (PPC) advertising platform – has undergone a lot of changes and enhancements since it was launched, including a change of name.

However, the basic principles of the system are the same now as they were in October 2000 when AdWords (as it used to be called) was launched.

In a nutshell, Google Ads works like this. You write an ad for your business, choose keywords that determine what sort of searches your ad will appear for on Google, and say how much you are willing to pay each time someone is directed to your website as a result of clicking on your ad.

It’s pretty easy to set up your first Google Ads campaign. But it’s also very easy to do it in a way that will put more money into Google’s pockets than yours. Here are six of the most common Google Ads mistakes to avoid, made by both new and not-so-new Google Ads advertisers.

1. Picking the wrong kind of keywords

It's a common misconception that the more keywords you have, the better. Through its "helpful" keyword suggestions that regularly pop up in your account, Google actually encourages you to keep adding more and more keywords.

But, often, the first thing I have to do when someone asks me to fix their Google Ads account is to remove lots of their keywords. Why? Because they are the kind of keywords which don’t show what's known as "buyer intent".

Here's an example. Imagine your business provides cleaning services to industrial and commercial kitchens. One of the services you want to advertise is kitchen steam cleaning. So you might decide to bid on keywords such as:

  •               Kitchen steam cleaning
  •               Kitchen steam cleaning company
  •               How to steam clean a kitchen

The first of these keywords is ambiguous in terms of whether or not it shows buyer intent. Someone who searches for kitchen steam cleaning may want to hire a company like yours to do it for them, or they may be looking for tips on how to do it themselves.

By contrast, someone who searches for kitchen steam cleaning company is showing far more buyer intent – i.e. they are much more likely to be looking to pay someone to clean the kitchen for them.

And the final keyword in the above list is likely to be the least effective because people who do “how to” type searches are generally looking for advice on how to do a job themselves.

So if you want to reduce your Google Ads costs and improve return on investment, it’s a good idea to trim your keyword list and take out any keywords that don’t show strong buyer intent.

Negative keywords in Google Ads

You can also use the Search Terms Report in Google Ads to find words or phrases for which you don’t want your ads to show. These are called negative keywords and they help you filter out unwanted clicks from users who are looking for something that your business doesn't offer, thereby saving you money. 

For example, let's say you run an online store selling new books. Here are some negative keywords you might consider:

  • used

  • PDF

  • downloads

  • audiobook

  • ebook

By adding these negative keywords to your Google Ads campaign, you can ensure that your ads don't show up when someone searches for "used books," "free book downloads", or other terms that are not relevant to your business of selling new books. This helps to improve the efficiency of your advertising spend.

2. Using broad match

Many people assume that if you bid on a particular keyword – for example iphone screen repair – your ad will only be displayed if someone searches on Google for that exact phrase. However, by default, Google uses something known as broad match to determine whether or not your keyword is close enough to the user’s search term to permit your ad to be shown.

Therefore, the reality is that if you were to bid on that iPhone screen repair keyword using the default setting, your ad could also appear for lots of irrelevant searches from people looking for things like: iPhone reviews, iPhone cases, second hand iPhones, and screen protectors for iPhones.

The way to control this is to stop using broad match and use exact match and phrase match keywords instead. 

adwords mistakes - 6 Common Google Ads Mistakes That Could Be Costing You a Fortune

3. Not having enough ads

You might think that you can get away with just having one ad that appears whenever one of your keywords is triggered. But a successful Google Ads campaign relies on your ad always being highly relevant to what the user searched for. There’s no way that a single ad can be highly relevant to every one of your keywords, especially if you sell multiple products or services. So you need to have multiple ads and use ad groups to associate each ad with a small group of keywords that are highly relevant to that ad. 

4. Keeping Display Select enabled

Google has two networks within the Google Ads platform. The one most people are familiar with is the Search Network where ads are displayed above and below Google’s search results. Your ad could also appear near search results of Google search partners,  which include YouTube and other Google sites.

But they also have the Display Network where your ads can appear on all sorts of different websites across the internet.

The Display Network involves pushing ads at people while they are browsing other sites. Therefore, the quality of traffic you’ll get from these display ads is usually much lower than you’ll get from the Search Network where your ads are appearing in front of people who are actively searching for the type of products/services you sell.

By default, Google will set your Google Ads campaign to Search Network with Display Select (SNDS). This means your ads will appear on both networks.

A much better strategy is to change this setting to Search Network Only, which will increase the quality of your traffic. If you later decide you want to experiment with display ads you should do this via a dedicated Display Network Only campaign. That way you keep your two different types of traffic separate from one another and it becomes easier to analyse your results, adjust bids, etc.

adwords mistakes - 6 Common Google Ads Mistakes That Could Be Costing You a Fortune

5. Not using assets

Assets (originally known as ad extensions) is a collective term for various types of additional information that can be displayed underneath or alongside your standard Google Ads advert. These assets allow you to include things like your street address, your phone number, your key USPs, or a list of your main services as extra lines of ad text.

By using assets, you are able to give searchers extra information about your business, and this may encourage them to click your ad. Assets also make your ad physically larger and more prominent which, again, increases the chances of it being clicked.

There’s no extra charge for using assets so if you haven’t enabled them in your Google Ads campaigns you should go and do so right away.

6. Blindly trusting Google to make the right suggestions

About 18 months ago, I set up a Google Ads campaign for an IFA called Alan, who wanted to generate more mortgage leads. 

Everything went well and by the end of the project, the campaign was bringing in a couple of decent leads a day at a cost of about £25 to £30 per lead. And Alan was converting about 1 in 6 of them into business.

So far, so good…

Now that the search campaign was up and running, Alan chose to continue managing his Google Ads himself.

But soon, Alan got back in touch with me to say that the PPC campaign had gone off the boil. He was now getting fewer leads and quite a few of the enquiries he was getting were from people who wanted to talk to their bank to make a complaint or raise a query about their existing mortgage!

“Have you changed anything since I last looked at the account?” I asked Alan.

“Yes,” he replied, “We had a call from someone at Google a few weeks ago. They were very helpful and made some suggestions and got us to change some things that they said would mean we got more leads and made better use of our budget.”

At this point, my alarm bells started ringing. You see, nine times out of ten, these “helpful” calls from Google are actually designed to get you to spend more money than you need. And that’s what had happened in Alan’s case too.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Alan ended up paying me to go into the account and fix all the problems that the Google rep had caused.

Two days after I’d done this work, I logged back into Alan’s Google Ads account to check the results. To my surprise and horror I found that several of my fixes had been undone again!

That’s when I realised that one of the things the Google rep had got Alan to do during that oh-so-helpful call was to turn on the setting that allows Google’s software to automatically apply its own recommended changes to the account without so much as a by-your-leave.

The good news is that I’ve now disabled that feature in Alan’s account and his ads are performing well again.

adwords mistakes - 6 Common Google Ads Mistakes That Could Be Costing You a Fortune

But this story highlights two things:

  1. You should be very wary about accepting recommendations made by Google - whether those recommendations are given over the phone by a human or whether they’re the ones that pop up on the Google Ads dashboard all the time. You and Google have different goals - you want to generate as many leads as possible from your existing ad budget whereas they just want you to keep increasing your ad spend. And so the changes Google recommends are often not going to be in your best interests.

  2. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you, it’s important to keep maintaining, checking and optimising your Google Ads campaigns - both to keep yourself one step ahead of your competitors and to make sure Google isn’t sabotaging things in the background. 


Google Ads can be a powerful tool for driving traffic and sales, but it's not without its pitfalls. If you think something might have gone wrong with your Google Ads campaigns since you first set them up and you’d like someone to take a look at them for you, let me know. I offer a limited number of free audits each month so drop me a line if you want to know if you qualify for one of those.

And if you want some free training on how to set Google Ads up correctly, click here.

About the author 

David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

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