Seven Popular Ways to Waste PPC Ad Money (Part 1)

I manage pay-per-click (PPC) advertising accounts for a living, so every month I audit or rebuild a few accounts for small-to-medium businesses (SMB). One of the first things I look for in an account is waste. I usually find some. Here are some recurring themes.

I’ll speak specifically of Google AdWords, but several of these points apply to Bing Ads as well. And you may wish to note that most of the wasteful mistakes I identify can be pitched as time-saving shortcuts. They are that in at least one sense: the shortest line between two crucial points, Google and your wallet.

Without further ado, here are some great ways to waste money in PPC.

1. Have a Bad Web Site

If your site is nonfunctional, obviously unfinished, or apparently fraudulent, Google won’t let you send ad clicks to it at all. But there are plenty of things you can do badly while still being legitimate enough that Google will accept your money.

The first page someone sees after clicking on your ad is the landing page, so it matters more than most other pages. If it loads slowly, you’ll lose conversions — sales, leads, whatever you’re trying to get.

If it doesn’t look and feel professional — in design, coloring, writing, etc. — you’ll lose trust, and customers will go elsewhere. I don’t necessarily mean they’ll think you’re dishonest. But you need them to trust your competence and professionalism, not just your honesty.

Think about this: Once you have them at your site, you’ve already paid for the ad click that got them there. Anything you do to turn them away wastes your money. If they don’t trust you, or if you make it hard for them to do what they came to do — preferably, what you want them to do, such as buy something or give you a lead — a lot fewer of them will do it.

Moreover, if you don’t make it fairly clear to them what to do next, once they’re at your landing page, a lot fewer of them will take that next step.

And if your site doesn’t deliver clearly on the expectations your ad created in their minds . . . Well, you know.

Speed isn’t the only issue, but here’s a tool I use to rate page speed for both mobile and desktop devices: Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Type in the URL of your site — or better yet, one of your landing pages — and see what you learn.

Eat-My-Own-Dog-Food Moment 1: When I type in the URL of this blog,, I get these results:

  • Mobile speed: 66/100 — Pretty good, but it could be better. If I were using PPC for e-commerce or lead generation here, I’d want to improve this — but it’s good enough already that enhancing speed likely wouldn’t be my first priority. When I’m ready, the tool has some suggestions.
  • Desktop speed: 79/100 — This is good too, but could be improved. Again, the tool has some suggestions.

Some of my speed issues are related to the WordPress theme I’m using, Synapse by simplethemes. It’s more optimized for speed than many WordPress themes, but it’s not the fastest. I could improve speed by using a faster theme, abandoning WordPress in favor of a custom-coded site (I used to build my own, but WordPress is just too easy), or by moving the site to a server that is optimized for WordPress, which many hosting companies offer at a higher price than regular hosting.

In any case, bear in mind that no automated tool can fully evaluate the user experience at your site. For that you need expert eyes and good analytics.

2. Neglect Mobile

The importance of mobile devices is large and increasing — and it’s not just people stranded by the side of the road, using their smart phones to find a tow truck. People now shop for everything from auto parts to legal counsel on handheld devices. Another category is growing too: cross-device traffic. That’s people using more than one type of device before they make a purchase. It’s difficult to measure and attribute properly, but I do know this about my own behavior: I often begin shopping with my phone, then purchase with my laptop, or vice versa.

I’ve seen mobile-unfriendly (but functional) sites convert on mobile devices. But if your site is hard to use or doesn’t look good on a mobile device with phone-size screen, you’re wasting opportunities, and that means you’re wasting PPC dollars too.

You can build separate, mobile-friendly pages at a subdomain, but I prefer — and my colleagues in SEO like — responsive sites, where desktop and mobile traffic go to the same pages, but the pages adjust their formatting to the screen size. I prefer to design for mobile first, to make sure that looks good, and then make any tweaks that seem advisable for desktop screens. That said, a responsive site will look simpler on a desktop screen than a lot of sites you’re used to. That may bother you at first, but it often turns out to work better on the desktop, too. A simpler look can be energetic and easier to comprehend and navigate. It’s also likely to load a lot faster than the kind of site where you’ve used every cool web toy you can think of, just because you can.

You may need a mobile-friendly site just to keep up with your competitors, but if they’re behind the times it can still give you a competitive advantage. I recently surveyed more than two dozen competitor web sites for a client. I won’t tell you which industry, but if I did, you’d expect it to be well funded. Clicks there cost about $40. Only two of those sites were mobile-friendly. (Both were responsive.) That’s less than 10 percent — and it’s a good opportunity for someone, hopefully my client.

Eat-My-Own-Dog-Food Moment 2: When I type the URL of this blog,, into Google’s PageSpeed Insights, I get a mobile user experience rating of 95/100, which is very good.

Eat-Sensible Digital MarketingMy-Own-Dog-Food Moment 3: Another good, relatively new test is to google your brand on a handheld device. When I search for “Sensible Digital Marketing” (without quotes), I have to go the second page of search results, because I have some SEO work to do. But when I find results from my site, I see what I’m looking for: the “Mobile-friendly” tag below the URL (highlighted in the image). It means Google thinks my site is mobile-friendly — which means all sorts of good and interesting things for my SEO and PPC — but that’s a topic for another day.

3. Don’t Track Conversions

Whether you’re trying to generate leads from form fills or phone calls or both, or trying to sell widgets online, it makes sense to measure your success, not just impressions or clicks. Ads and keywords which lead to lots of clicks may not sell your product very well or produce leads, but if you’re not measuring leads or sales — conversions — you’ll never know.

Without conversion tracking, whoever’s managing your PPC advertising — you, your geek niece, or a consultant or an agency — will have to make optimization decisions based on the wrong data. It’s hard to imagine not wasting money that way.

If you’re engaged in e-commerce and selling a variety of widgets with different prices — or the same price but different profit margins — you’ll want to track the value of conversions (sales) too. Then you can tune your PPC advertising to a profitable ROAS (return on ad spend) or ELROI (estimated lifetime ROI). Once you’re there, and to the limits of your infrastructure, your supply, and the available ad impressions, PPC advertising turns into a money machine. The more you put in, the more you get out.

Four of my seven wasteful ways remain. They’re in the next post.

Posted in PPC

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