Let’s face it: PPC can be intimidating. With ever-changing attribution models, audiences, and ad types, it’s a full-time job trying to keep up, manage, and optimize campaigns. If you don’t have the time to do all that? Your money goes to Google and you’re left with no leads and an angry CMO.

“I tried PPC but it ended up being a huge waste of money and I hardly got any leads.”

This is a common refrain and for a lot of people, it’s true, but not because PPC doesn’t work. It’s because campaigns and ads weren’t set up to yield the best results while minimizing budget waste.

PPC Budget Waster #1: Keywords

If you’re working on search ads, it’s important to start your project with keyword discovery. Before you put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard with ad copy, the most important thing you can do is make sure you have a solid, relevant foundation for your ads. This ensures your ads are more relevant to your prospects.

Problem: Too many keywords

When doing your keyword research or letting automated tools like Moz, SEMRush, or Keyword planner do the work for you, it’s important to note that not every keyword selected for you will be relevant.

The temptation to dump a lot of keywords into a digital pile and let them fight it out in the Google Octagon is strong but it’s also the easiest way to waste your PPC budget without getting good conversions (or any at all).

Challenge: Start with a small list of keywords

This sounds counter-intuitive, I know. But this is advice PPC experts from Google would give you, as well. The average number of keywords to start with hovers around 25 though, depending on the type of campaign you’re running, you may have fewer than that. As your ad matures, you can feed it with new keywords and test different types of keyword/keyword phrases to see what converts better.

Problem: Keyword piles

Now that you have fewer keywords, you’re not done! It’s easier to take your list, build ads, and press “go” but that doesn’t always help you out. Sometimes your list of keywords around products and services may be so disparate that the higher volume keywords will sap the budget from the lower volume keywords.

“But isn’t that point?” you ask. Think of it this way:

Say you have 3 products you sell to your clients:

Product 1 is super rad and everyone loves it. It’s already a money maker but you want to increase its reach and try to bring in new traffic.

Product 2 has been around for a while but you want more people to know about it and use it.

Product 3 is brand new and very exciting for you and your team. You’re ready to tell ALL THE PEOPLE about what you can do for them!

If you throw keywords for all 3 of these products into one list, Product 1 will more than likely dominate the budget because it’s more popular and the keywords associated with it appear more frequently. What we want is to give each product its own space to shine so you can nurture reach and authority while creating more specific lead funnels.

Solution: SKAGs

While this sounds like a derogatory term you’d hear in a British comedy, it actually stands for Single Keyword Ad Groups. Remember the keyword pile in the last example? With a SKAG, you’d create three different ad groups with their own keywords for that product. It would look something like this:

Product 1: Rad Stuff
Keywords: Rad stuff specific
Ad copy: Rad stuff specific

Product 2: Pretty Good stuff
Keywords: Pretty Good stuff

Ad copy: Pretty Good stuff

Product 3: Cool new stuff
Keywords: Cool new stuff

Ad copy: Cool new stuff

Ideally, each of these would also have their own landing page but that’s a conversation for another blog. The point is: when you separate the keywords by grouping them with similar keywords, you not only make more concise, relevant content for users, you also give each product, service, and theme it’s own room to breathe so you can get better insights into what is performing and what isn’t.

Remember: not all keywords are created equally!

Problem: Lots of unqualified traffic

This is one of those things that happens to everyone that no one likes to talk about but it is a huge PPC budget waster. While there are a LOT of reasons (and fixes!) for unqualified traffic, what’s often overlooked is the match type for keywords. In this instance, Broad Match is getting some aggressive eye contact.

First of all, let’s define broach match: When you add a broad match of a keyword phrase to your list, you’re telling Google that if someone searches for something that contains some of those keywords, variations of those keywords, or what Google deems related topics, then it’s ok to show your ad.

Sometimes this is great! Sometimes this is not so great. Here’s an example:

Company A has a cool name and does digital project planning. Company A decided to do some campaigns around brand awareness and their products. Their products have cool names, too, but they share the name of a watchmaker, a fashion label, a sunglass designer, and a book from the 70s.

If Company A leans too hard on a broad match, their ads will show up for all the other related brand names, which are not relevant to what they do.

Remember: You are still smarter than Google.

The solution: Check your match types

If you think broad matches are a good idea (and there are a lot of cases where it is!) then be sure to watch your placements and the related keywords Google is recommending in the Recommendations section of your GoogleAds dashboard as well as in your Search Term reports. You’ll be able to see quickly if keywords on your list are pulling in the wrong kind of traffic.

PPC Budget Waster #2: Audiences

Display and search ads use audience targeting to help ensure your ads are reaching qualified users. If you’re not using audience lists, you may be sending your ads out to too many people. Paying for impressions or clicks that don’t convert is a massive budget waster.

Problem: No audience targets

Your ads are running and they’re getting good impressions and click-through rates but some if not most of the conversions end up being unqualified. One of the things you should do first is to check your audience. It’s an oft-ignored part of Google ads, especially for search ads.

Solution: Set up some audience targets

Google wants to make money and they don’t get money if your ads don’t work out well for you. With this in mind, Google has given its Ads users a pretty comprehensive list of things they can select to further narrow down their audiences.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not people’s personal information like name, blood type, and home address. Instead, Google lets you focus on things like interests, general demographics, and a whole host of other, broader things based on large groups of users’ actions, not one user’s actions. For a full list of the audiences and when to use them, check out this Google list.

The takeaway here is that the more detailed you get, the more and effectively you can show your ads to target audiences. This not only gets you better leads, but it helps prevent budget loss from irrelevant placements.

Problem: Your audience is too broad

Whether you’re just setting up your audience or you already have some set up and live, you may still have issues with unqualified prospects and un-served ads.
Your audience might be too broad. Let’s say we go back to Company A, the cool digital project management company. They set up their SKAGs and they have an audience selected but things aren’t progressing as well as they thought it would. When they go into their audience list, they see that all the things they selected match their user personas but don’t narrow match types down more specifically to their products/user needs.

Solution: Narrow your targeting

Check your audience targeting to see if it encompasses too many people. Did you select an affinity like “television” that pretty much everyone has? Have you taken advantage of things like remarketing, customer match, or in-market targeting? All of these things give you the ability to create a much more targeted audience which means you’re spending your budget on more qualified leads.

Remember those buyer personas saved somewhere on your computer? Pull those out and use that information to help create a more targeted audience.

Note: This is Google, not Facebook, so some of the hyper-targeting you’re used to on social media ads will not be available here. Manage your expectations!

PPC Budget Waster #3: Bid type

Whenever you make a new campaign you’ll be prompted to select what type of bidding you want to do. Google offers you an option and most people are content to stick with that. In some cases, Google is right but…remember: You are still smarter than Google and know your goal, audience, and intentions better than they do.

Problem: The wrong bid type

A common issue with budget loss is spending ad dollars with the wrong bid type that doesn’t match your actual goals. You may select Maximize Clicks on a lead generation campaign or opt to do Enhanced CPC bidding and end up blowing through your budget well before the end of the ad flight.

Solution: Know your bid types

First of all: you need to know the goal of your ads before you choose a bid type. Once you have that, then you can worry about bids. Per the usual, Google has a comprehensive list of its bid types but here’s a short review of some of the more popular/well-known bid types:

Manual CPC

Manual CPC allows you to put in your own maximum CPC which means you decide how much you’re willing to pay for a click. This bid type is not recommended for advertisers that don’t have time to fuss over their ads daily. Because Google is a bidding system, CPCs for keywords change constantly so your manual bidding may fall short meaning your ads don’t run.

This is not a Smart Bidding/automated bid type so you’ll have to manually adjust your numbers as you go.

Enhanced CPC (ECPC)

Enhanced CPC lets you set your own max CPC but it automatically adjusts your bid based on the cost it thinks will get you more/better clicks. To get the most out of this type of bidding, you’ll need to understand your cost per conversion and your return-in-ad-spend (ROAS) targets. If this sounds like a foreign language to you, don’t use this type of bidding.

This and all the other bid types on this list are part of Smart Bidding which is Google’s automated bidding strategy.

Maximize Clicks

Maximize clicks does what it says: it adjusts CPCs so your ads are more competitive and will show to people who are more likely to click on it. Unlike Manual CPC, this is an automated strategy so you don’t have to set anything other than your daily budget and Google will do the rest. If your daily budget is too low to let your ads be competitive, Google will let you know in your Google Ads dashboard.

Maximize Conversions

Another automated bid type, maximize conversion sets bids so that your ads will show to users most likely to convert on your lead generation effort. Whether it’s a free ebook or a demo request, maximizing conversions can help you get in front of more qualified leads. While this is great, this requires conversion tracking which needs to be installed and it also needs another tool so you can store and analyze conversion information as they come in. We’ll talk about attribution in just a minute.

Target Impression Share

Target Impression Share is a great strategy if your goal is to own a certain percentage of impressions on keywords or keyword phrases. This automated bid type is used a lot for brand campaigns where brands would like to own their brand name and want to see if they’re getting the job done. The impression share shows as a percent that tells you what percentage of the paid search you own around that keyword/keyword phrase. This is good for building brand recognition and authority but not recommended purely for lead generation and conversions.

Is that a comprehensive list of bid types? No, there are still many, many others you can use to get the best results for your campaign. It’s also important that you do some additional research on each bid type as PPC professionals often disagree on bid types (except ECPC, we all hate it).

PPC Budget Waster #4: Attribution

Attribution is the part of PPC that can make or break your campaign in the long run. Attribution is the way you can show how users interact with your ads and how/when they convert. Whether you’re running PPC ads only or you have a myriad of digital marketing ads going, understanding how your paid ads are bringing conversions and ultimately sales to your business is critical in ensuring your budget is going to the right place.

Problem: No attribution

For some, conversion activity ends with a click or a form fill. After that, a lead goes into the wild blue yonder and that’s the end of the story. The problem with this is that you don’t have a good way to track where good leads are coming from, how much they cost, and what their return on ad spend (ROAS) happens to be. Without this information, you will always have an incomplete picture of what your ad dollars are paying for.

Solution: Put attribution on the to-do list

If you don’t currently have a system in place for attribution, that’s ok. Not every business is ready for a CRM but it’s important to note that, one day, you will be, so understanding how attribution works before you need it will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

If you’re a larger company with a thriving CRM and no attribution models in place, you’ve just found your next big to-do.

Problem: The wrong types of attribution

There are several types of attribution you can choose from and selecting the wrong one can give you an erroneous look at your lead generation activities meaning you might end up putting your money in the wrong places.

Unlike bid types, there are only a few attribution models you can select on Google:

Last Click

Last Click only counts the conversion on the last ad clicked. If your prospect clicked 3 ads total but only converted on the third one, it will count as a single conversion. This is the most common attribution model used as it’s the easiest to understand and you get nice, whole numbers for your Conversion metrics.

First Click

First Click gives conversion credit to the first ad a user clicked on. We don’t typically recommend this attribution model for our clients.


Linear attribution takes all ad interactions into account, not just the final conversion. If a prospect saw 3 ads and converted on the last one, Linear attribution will still give partial credit to the other 2 ads as they were more than likely to reason that the third ad led to a conversion.

Time Decay

This is where the math comes in. Time Decay attribution looks at the time period surrounding the conversion and gives credit accordingly. Typically, Google looks at time decay attribution in 7-day increments and will give more credit to ads that were shown closer to the conversion.

Let’s say your prospect saw 3 ads and converted on the third. The first ad was seen 9 days ago, the second ad was seen 3 days ago, and the final ad that led to the conversion was from yesterday. The farther away from the actual conversion that ad interaction is, the less credit it gets towards the overall conversion metric.


Position-based attribution focuses more on the first and last ad interaction and its corresponding keyword. Google will give 40% of the attribution to the first and last ad interaction related to the converting keyword and 20% to the ads that generated interactions that weren’t associated with the converting keyword.

It’s important to note that for you to create a successful attribution model you’ll need to make sure you have conversion tracking on and going somewhere where it can be compiled and analyzed. Typically, a CRM like Hubspot or Salesforce has this functionality.

Campaign, Know Thyself!

PPC is not something you can master overnight. It takes time, patience, testing, testing, and even more patience. Be sure you have the budget, the information, and the bandwidth needed to invest in a PPC campaign. The easiest way to lose money on PPC is to set it and forget it. If you have additional PPC questions or this post made you realize you can’t go it alone, contact us today and let our experts help you grow.