Google Advertising Red Flags – Updated 2020

I realise this article will rile many agencies whose questionable practices I’m about to expose.

But quite frankly I don’t care.

I’m sick of seeing the look of dismay on the faces of business owners when they’re told what’s really been going on with their account.

Lately, we’ve had an influx of business owners asking us to audit their Google Ads accounts. As the economy starts to contract, people are more dependent on results than ever before. When times are good, leads are plentiful and so it’s easy to think your Google Ads agency is doing their job. But when times are tough, leads are harder to come by and so you may wonder – what are they doing to help me?

It’s also natural during these times to start to question the fees you’re paying – and some businesses are paying a lot! For an indication of what’s a fair fee to pay for Google Ads Management, check out our Google Ads pricing page. But remember, a fee is only worth what you pay if it delivers results for you. In many of the accounts we’ve audited, the results are abysmal and business owners are losing out big time.

Google Ads can be confusing, and some agencies like to keep their clients in the dark. They hide behind technical lingo and industry speak to justify exorbitant fees for little gain. Many businesses suspect their account isn’t being managed well, but they just don’t know how to tell for sure.

We hope this article provides you with some useful clues, so you know what to look for. From lazy practices to accounts that never existed, this article highlights red flags to watch out.

1- They waive setup fees just to hook you in. Are they really putting the effort into setting your account up correctly?

If you don’t put the effort into setting up an account from the start, you’ll go backwards quickly. Advertising is expensive, so you need a sound strategy. You also need a comprehensive set-up to ensure the account is tightly controlled, so to avoid wasted clicks. Investing in a quality set-up at the start can save you thousands in the long run.

Real Life Examples

  • We often find the same ad text is used for every keyword that’s being bid on. The ads are not compelling, are far too generic, and result in low click-thru rates, which leads to a low ‘quality score’ by Google. Poor quality scores impact ad rank and cost per click amongst other things. But worst, poorly written ads attract poor quality leads.
  • With rushed set-ups very little is done to control the quality of traffic to the website. Lots of broad search terms are used and these generate irrelevant clicks. A Keyword Plan should be discussed at the start, to ensure you’re attracting more of the traffic you want. You should also profile your ideal demographic, and optimise your account to them.
  • With free setups, we come across many Display Ads that are an embarrassment to the company. They are not prepared by a designer, but rather automatically generated by the system. Images, text and headlines don’t gel and the messages are confusing. For example, we audited an account that sells toys and clothing for babies, but the ads were promoting Mother’s Day gifts!

2- They’re not given access to their accounts.

Instead they are given reports each month which they’re assured it tells them everything they need to know. But how do you know these reports are authentic?

Real Life Example

We received a call from a trade business struggling to get answers out of their Google Ads provider. They noticed their ads had stopped showing. When they raised concerns with the agency they were given assurances that their ads were running and to look at their reports. Still unsatisfied as leads had all but stopped, they rang again; but the agency wouldn’t return their calls. When the owner sent a firm email demanding answers, the agency threatened to take their website down altogether.

This is where we stepped in. It turns out their ads weren’t running, and hadn’t been for many months. The reports were bogus and the full $2000 they were paying each month was being pocketed by the agency. We quickly set them up with a new website and a payment plan to help them through. They are now at an all time high for revenue, which shows how vital it is to choose the right agency.

3- They’re sold a ‘package’ with their advertising spend to Google lumped in with their management fee to the agency. They have no idea how much is going on advertising. The reports provide no cost information and focus on clicks, not leads.

Often these reports provide ‘high level’ information like the number of clicks received, but not what those clicks cost. We sometimes find that the majority of clicks are put to Display Advertising because display costs a lot less than Search Advertising. But Display Advertising targets low intent audiences. Ideally, the bulk of your spend should be put to Search Advertising so you can get your company’s name in front of people searching for your services. There are of course exceptions to this, like event providers, but for most businesses search works better.

Real Life Example

  • We took over an account where 3000 clicks per month were going to Display, and only 130 clicks were going to Search. Subsequently, this business was not showing for highly relevant keywords. People actively looking for their services couldn’t find them online. The agency was endeavouring to make themselves look good by touting ‘look at how much traffic we’ve brought to your site’. But when we looked at Google Analytics we could see most of it was bouncing. So the clicks they were paying for were wasted.
  • We received a call from a medium-sized business concerned with the lack of leads coming through, and the poor position of their ads. For the highest relevant search terms, they were showing on page 2 or 3, or not at all. They were paying this company $2,000 a month, and yet they had nothing to show for this investment as leads were not increasing. The report they received each month contained no cost information whatsoever. They had no way of knowing how much was being pocketed by the agency, and how much actually going on advertising. What’s more, they had not been given access to their account, so they couldn’t find this out for themselves, which leads me to my next point….

4- You’re not showing for relevant search terms.

Like most things in life, the 80/20 rule applies. There will be a few keywords (20%) that are highly valuable to your business. These are the keywords that are more likely to convert. You want to ensure you show often for these terms. Your agency should be putting the bulk of your advertising spend on these words, so you don’t miss opportunities. There is a tool in Google Ads called ‘Auction Insights’ which shows where you rank in relation to your competitors. You want to be near the top for impression share (number of times your ads show to people googling your services) as well as ad position (position your ads rank in relation to your competitors). Ask your agency to show you this tool. We include this in our monthly reports so clients can rest assured they’re not missing out on opportunities to competitors.

5- Your ads aren’t in the top three positions when you Google search terms related to your business.

If you’re not seeing your ads until page two or even three of Google, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities. The fewer competitors potential clients have to crawl through before they come across your company, the better! You want to ensure your ads are showing in the top three positions, ideally the second position. Position one can cost a lot of money and result in accidental clicks. While three can be a bit low. We always aim for position two with our clients, unless of course they have a large budget.

Real life example

A plumbing company was scratching their heads as to why they were getting very few leads despite spending $1000 a month on ads. When we looked at the search terms they were bidding on we found that most of their budget was going on terms related to ‘plumbing’. What’s wrong with that you ask? They were paying for clicks for like ‘plumbing shops’, ‘plumbing supplies’, ‘how to plumb a toilet’, ‘does my landlord have to pay for emergency plumbing’. By turning off the keyword ‘plumbing’ and focusing on terms like ‘plumber + north shore’, ‘plumber nz’, ‘plumbing company’ they immediately got more leads.

6- You get calls that have nothing to do with your business.

It’s not unusual for us to find high numbers of irrelevant search terms when auditing accounts, mostly due to the agency being lazy and only bidding on broad terms. This results in wasted clicks that chew through your budget.

Check out these real life examples:

Real life example

  • A noise barrier fence provider who received calls at 2 am in the morning from people wanting ‘noise control’ – agency was bidding on anything to do with ‘noise’.
  • A container storage company that received calls from people wanting ‘airport storage’ – the agency was bidding on anything to do with ‘storage’
  • An eftpos service provider who received calls early in the morning from people wanting to know if their taxi’s had eftpos – agency was bidding on anything to do with ‘eftpos’

Broad search terms often result in wasted clicks. You’re better off putting your budget to a few highly relevant search terms. If you do use broad search terms, it’s vital you review the search terms fortnightly and add ‘negative keywords’ to prevent your ads from showing for irrelevant searches. It’s also vital you use ‘broad match modifier’ by putting a + in front of each word, otherwise Google will show you for anything remotely related to the keywords you’re bidding on.

7- They take 40% of the cost of your spend for ‘management fees’.

So, if you pay $2000 a month on advertising, they take $800 of that. If you pay $6000, they take a whopping $2400! Think about how many hours work you should be getting for that amount of fees. Do you honestly think you’re getting that? Which leads me to my next point….

8- You have no idea what they’re doing each month.

Did you know there is a quick and easy way to find out how much work your agency is putting into your account? You can access a feature called ‘Change History’. This tells you how many changes occurred in the account month by month, in other words – how much work has been put into it. If you are paying $800 a month you should be seeing quite a few changes. These changes should be made to keywords, ads and extensions, bids and budgets, not just bids. Your Display Ads should be regularly updated with relevant and compelling messages.

Real life example

Unfortunately there are too many to list here. Often we see work every two to three months, and many months with nothing except a few ‘bid changes’. I think this is probably what is most distressing to business owners. You work hard for the money you earn. You put your trust in a professional agency who has no qualms taking that money from you and doing nothing in return for it. Because most businesses don’t realize there is a way they can check, the agency often gets away with it.

9- They leave the management of your account to software, so they don’t have to do much.

While there is a place for some automation, no program can understand the competitive landscape and intricacies of your industry as well as an actual person. No system can formulate a strategy or game plan to differentiate you from your competitors. That takes smarts, drive and human intelligence. We don’t use automation software to manage accounts because we’ve found that there is no substitute for hard work, experience and strategy. It’s not in our clients best interest to take a set-and-forget approach to management. Our clients pay us to manage their accounts personally, so we don’t pass that work over to software. Instead we work with our clients to prepare a digital marketing strategy that’s updated regularly.

10- They focus on bringing more traffic to your website, but more traffic doesn’t equate to more business!

In many accounts we’ve audited, business owners are sold a pitch that the agency would ‘get more traffic’ to their websites. The agency did exactly that, and so they delivered on their promise. But they didn’t deliver on their client’s expectations; because what these business owners really wanted was more leads and revenue. But more traffic doesn’t naturally lead to more leads – it has to be relevant traffic. The money they were spending on Google Ads was wasted on irrelevant, invalid clicks that chewed through their budget with very little to show for it.

Real life example

  • Business Owner 1. Since April he has spent $1,500 on Google advertising + management and set up fees of $1,200 to receive only $400 in revenue, ouch!
  • Business Owner 2. Had been running Google Ads for years and yet the vast majority of leads were coming through under their brand name. These were people who already knew about them, and would have found them organically anyway. The number of new customer acquisitions was very, very low.
  • Business Owner 3. Spent $3,000 on Google Ads since February, and generated $4,500 in sales but when you add on management fees and take into account the profit margins on the goods they were selling, they were going backwards

Check out our blog – 1 Here’s Why You Don’t Want To Get More Traffic’ for more information on what to look for here.

In summary, Google Ads can be a great way to generate new leads, but only if your account is being managed well. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending a lot of money with nothing to show for it. Not all agencies are working in their clients best interests. Who you choose to be your Google Ads provider is an important one. Choose well and you’ll benefit from a growing business. Choose poorly and you’ll end up wasting money and losing opportunities.

If you suspect your account isn’t being managed well, don’t waste another month. Every month that goes by is another month of lost money and opportunities. Pick up the phone and give us a call today for a free, confidential audit.

Connect with @digitalstream on hello@digitalstream.co.nz

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