What is the biggest mistake that people make with Google search ads?

In most cases, Google search ads are a great option for colleges. They can bring you some of the most qualified leads you will ever get, because people have taken time out of their day to actively search for something on Google. Also, Google search campaigns aren’t terribly difficult to set up compared to some other platforms, but the success depends ultimately on the quality of the keywords you enter.

If you’ve ever implemented a Google search ad campaign or ever even researched it, all of the above information is probably nothing new. Yet ultimately, the success in terms of maximizing your budget and ensuring you get the most possible clicks per dollar is going to depend on the quality of your negative keywords. The vast majority of search campaigns are not utilizing negative keywords, if at all.   

First of all, what is a negative keyword? Simply put, it is a keyword that will prevent your ad from appearing. So, when we typically think of Google search ads, you enter the keywords that you want to trigger your ad. For example, if you were a store selling iPhones, obviously you would want keywords like “Apple,” “iPhone,” “new iPhone,” etc. to trigger your ad. If you only sold iPhones and you didn’t sell Samsung phones, you wouldn’t want your ad to appear to someone searching for a Samsung phone. So in this case, you might enter the word “Samsung,” or “LG,” or “Motorola” as a negative keyword. That way, even if someone’s query included the word “iPhone,” if they have one of those negative keywords in their query, your ad is not going to show.

This is a great way to prevent a bad click and save money. We’ll start with a real world example. Recently, we ran a few campaigns for various community colleges that were promoting a Swift programming curriculum. Swift is the programming language that is used to develop Apple iPhone apps. We quickly saw that some of the ads were being triggered by people searching for Taylor Swift, the musician. Obviously that was a terrible use of spend if someone searches for Taylor Swift and then clicks an ad for an iPhone programming course. Chances are they’re not really going to like what they see on that landing page, and that’s going to be a wasted click.

Another comical example: In the past, we had a healthcare client, and we were promoting a prostate cancer treatment. When looking at our data, we saw that we were getting a number of clicks from people searching for dog prostate cancer treatment or pet treatments. Obviously those are bad clicks.

So, in all of these cases, we added appropriate negative keywords. For the Swift campaigns, we added “Taylor” to prevent searches for “Taylor Swift” triggering ads. For the prostate cancer treatment we added “dog,” “cat,” “pet,” etc. to the negative keywords. As a result, those problems were quickly solved, money was saved, and performance improved. 

In many cases, if negative keywords are properly configured at the onset of the campaign and properly managed throughout the campaign, you can prevent 20% or more of your budget from being completely wasted. Relatively speaking, that is a very large amount. It is definitely too large of an amount to overlook. 

So, next time you plan a campaign, don’t stop at just creating great keywords. Create a list of negative keywords right at the onset of the campaign, but keep the following in mind: It is impossible to create a perfect list of negative keywords before the campaign even starts, so you have to regularly monitor your search queries to see what words people are searching that are triggering your ads. Look for negative keyword ideas in those queries, and regularly add those to your negative keywords list at least weekly; ideally daily. Again, over the course of a campaign, this task alone can save 20% or more of your budget from being completely wasted, thus optimizing your investment even further.

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