8 of the Biggest Mistakes Companies Make With Paid Search Advertising

Let’s face it. Paid search campaigns are not the easiest thing in the world to manage. Some companies hire an overpriced agency hoping for a magic PPC bullet that will cure their website’s terrible performance. Others follow the misguided advice of their well-intentioned marketing manager who wants to save costs and keep it in-house—only to realize after the fact that they’ve wasted thousands of dollars trying to manage something they don’t understand.

Whatever the case, avoiding the following mistakes when it comes to paid search will save you a lot of heartache (and money).

1. Not setting clear goals

The two most important things a company should know before walking into a paid search engagement are what they want to get out of it and how they will measure it.

Some people hear amazing success stories and want to jump in before they know exactly what they want the search to do for their business. Making more money or attracting potential customers are not specific goals. Having a 3:1 return on investment, however, is a defined goal. Getting 20 leads a month is a great goal if you work with the sales team to find out the average sale amount and close rate for online leads. It all depends on your business and your understanding of the finances involved in the costs of marketing and sales.

2. Not hiring a dedicated expert

One of the major mistakes I’ve seen companies make is to have someone with little or no experience run their campaign. While this can save money in the short term, it is akin to having someone with no design experience plan your website. They are bound to make many mistakes that directly involve the spending of your money.

In the years I’ve spent managing paid searches and taking over accounts for other people, I’ve seen a lot of very poorly executed campaigns. In some of the worst cases, these campaigns were targeted to the wrong audience and wasted thousands of dollars. Sometimes the accounts ran for years in this state, as if the company had no idea how they were spending their own money.

The wisest thing you can do as a business is to hire someone who is an expert to set your campaigns up and manage them.

3. Adopting a set-it-and-forget-it mentality

Another common mistake I’ve seen is having the perception that a campaign is fully optimized and able to run on auto-pilot. While you hope to get to a point where your campaigns require less management so you can focus on expanding, you should always leave time to check in on mature campaigns to make sure things are still running as smoothly as possible. If you don’t perform this maintenance, then you run the risk of accidentally overspending your budget, missing out on seasonal fluctuations, opportunities for testing, implementing new features, and more.

4. Choosing working hard over working smart

We all run into people who are constantly busy but never seem to get anything substantial done. These are the types of people who equate checking off tasks to being productive.

While it’s important to be organized and hardworking, these shouldn’t come at the expense of stopping from time to time to look at the big picture. If you are spending four hours a day making tiny changes in your accounts in the name of “optimization,” but not seeing your clients get closer to your goals, then you should change your approach. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results.

5. Not doing enough testing

If you aren’t treating the internet as a giant laboratory to help you become more successful, then you are missing out. What ad copy produces the highest click-through-rate? What landing page call to actions produce the highest conversion rate? Are shoppers using mobile devices to purchase, or should you focus your budget on tablet and desktops?

There are so many things you can test to keep improving the profitability of your campaigns. Make sure you take advantage of them!

6. Trying to fix larger issues with advertising

If your website and landing pages are terrible, spending advertising money to send people there is not going to do anything except deplete your bank account. Instead, you should be spending money on web design, development, user experience, and content creation so that you have a solid foundation that will make your marketing campaigns perform the best they can.

Updating and redesigning websites can be a painful and expensive process, but the longer you ignore it, the worse it will be when it comes time to change. Traditionally, companies that wait every two to five years to update their sites fall behind in many aspects, suffering through it when they finally make that big push to update.


Try taking an evolutionary approach to site redesign and continuously improve your website. It will be less expensive in the long run (and short run) and help to create efficient processes that are bearable and perhaps enjoyable to your internal teams.

7. Not accepting failure

As in life, things rarely work out exactly how we want them to. Despite being a dynamic medium with many targeting options, paid search isn’t always the best option for everyone. Even with plenty of planning and research, you will always have to test a campaign out to see how it will perform.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to fail to accept that a campaign didn’t perform well and continue with it in hopes that it will pick up. Instead of wasting precious time and resources, don’t be afraid to throw in the towel and start over from another angle or put your marketing dollars in other efforts. If you are running paid search, then it is your responsibility to identify whether or not it is providing value.

8. Not looking at the big picture

Perhaps the biggest blunder a company could make with paid search is to view it in a vacuum and fail to understand the whole story on how their customers interact with and buy on their website. More times than not, your customer isn’t ready to act yet and is simply gathering information.

For example, you may have a new website with poor representation in organic search. In order to get new customers, you decide to spend money on paid search. Depending on your attribution model, you may suddenly start getting purchases through direct traffic or organic search and think that they are working better than paid search.

However, if you don’t consider that the customers are finding you through paid search in the first place and then coming back through other mediums to purchase, you would be making a huge mistake if you discontinued it.


In the above example, this chart is telling us that paid search drove $5,086.12 in sales through first click conversions. This means that the “first click” of the customer, in other words the first visit, came through paid search. Only $1,772.79 is attributed to last click conversions, meaning the customers’ “last click,” or last visit, before the purchase came through paid search.

At the end of the day, you have to work hard to understand your customer’s buying cycle so you can create synergies between all of your marketing efforts and be confident that they are working to serve your best interests.

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Posted by Luke Cerny

Luke Cerny

Luke Cerny is a passionate online marketing consultant with experience in PPC, SEO, and web analytics. Working both client and agency-side in the past, he brings a wide breadth of knowledge to the table for B2B and B2C clients alike. In his free time, Luke enjoys traveling, writing songs, and being a doggy-dad at his home in Milwaukee, WI.

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