3 Big PPC Mistakes Even Pros Make

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Everyone makes mistakes. You’ve heard that saying a thousand times, and yet it still rings true.

Even seasoned professionals make mistakes; and usually mistakes are the best way to learn.

Still, especially when you’re new at something, it’s encouraging to know that even the pros mess up at times. Every golfer loves it when Tiger Woods shanks a drive, for example.

I asked PPC pros to share their biggest PPC mistakes (anonymously, of course). One long-time PPC manager sent me three mistakes and said they’d made all of them in the last year! I know I’ve made my share over the years, too.

With that, here are the mistakes people made, and how to avoid them.

1. Budget Mistakes

“One of my team members uploaded a new campaign with a budget of $5,000/day, not $500/day. Campaign went live over a weekend and spent a ton.”

“PPC mistakes I have made: spending budgets too fast and forgetting to add new budget for the start of a new month (using Manager Defined Spend).”

One of the great things about PPC is that you can decide how much you want to spend. As an advertiser, you can decide to spend $5 per day or $50,000 per day – and you control the budget limits.

The problems arise when simple typos are made in budgets, or when an agency manager forgets to add new budget to their MDS (which I have done myself).

How to avoid budget mistakes: Have someone else double-check your entries, and put a reminder on your calendar for the last Friday of each month to reset your MDS budgets.

2. Bidding Mistakes

“My biggest PPC mistake: late one night I accidentally increased bids on two keywords… I meant to type 11 cents, but I typed 11 dollars. By the next day the account had racked up $7,000 in unwanted charges!”

“I tried changing bids only to remember that the client has automated bidding for those keywords – after spending time setting up all the new bids.”

“Biggest mistake: Forgetting a decimal point on a bid. Fortunately, it wasn’t for a client account. Unfortunately, it was for me. Ka-Ching.”

“Someone I worked with once put a popular head term on broad match with a £80 bid instead of a £0.80 bid.”

I’d be willing to bet that every PPC manager has made a bidding mistake at least once. It’s easy to type $30 when you really meant $0.30 – or vice versa – and the results can be disastrous in a short period of time.

I once set up a bunch of new keywords for a client in a very competitive vertical, and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting any traffic. Turns out I’d set the bids at $0.50 instead of $50!

How to avoid bidding mistakes: It’s hard to completely avoid them, but using an offline editor like AdWords Editor or Bing Ads Editor helps, because you can check your work before the changes go live. Also, make sure to check your campaigns the next day – you’ll easily spot anomalies before they get too far out of control.

3. Network Targeting Mistakes

“Not turning off content network for a new campaign, set to single word broad match. Not always a mistake, but this time it was.”

“With all the teams I’ve managed, the favorite rookie mistake has always been content network =on. Have seen £00s wasted on that.”

Google doesn’t do novice PPC marketers any favors with their campaign defaults. PPC best practices such as separating search and content (display) and proper geo-targeting are overridden by Google’s default settings, which target “All Countries and Languages” and “All Networks.”

google network default

How to avoid network targeting mistakes: Make sure all new hires are trained in best practices for PPC settings, and be sure to check their work early on. Using a desktop editor makes it easier to double-check all campaign settings before pushing campaigns live. After the changes are live, check the settings again in the online interface to make sure everything is the way it should be. Schedule a report, segmented by network and campaign, to be sent to your email the day after the campaign goes live. If you’re seeing traffic in the wrong place, you’ll know what to fix.


Hopefully this post has taught you two things: that even the most experienced PPC managers make mistakes, and how to avoid those pitfalls!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at Search Engine Watch on February 5, 2013.

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  1. One time I added a negative keyword as a broad match instead of an exact match…on a Friday…then went on a road trip. Came back to very little revenue and very unhappy bosses. It’s not easy being green :-/

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Ha, I think we’ve all done one thing in haste on our way out the door on vacation and then come back to mini-disasters. Happens to the best of us!

      • There was one time at a previous agency that my manager decided a new campaign had to be launched immediately and couldn’t wait til I got back. So he asked Google to create it.

        Not so much my error, but his error definitely brings up a good #4 – don’t trust Google to do what’s best for you and your client.

  2. Aaron Levy says

    Someone I know that was definitely not me at all bid on “tennessee,” on broad match for about 12 hours bc someone forgot they had column headers…

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Hahahah! 🙂 I did that with “keyword” once. You’d be shocked at how many people search for that and click on ads. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t be shocked….

  3. Shortly after Google put keywords and negative keywords next to each other in AdWords Editor I mistakenly added negative keywords as keywords. Fortunately I caught this quickly after seeing spend jump, and the window was short enough that it didn’t really reflect in monthly reports.

  4. Oy, the budget thing. Extending the campaign date, but then not extending the budget date…so guilty of that.

  5. 🙂
    I’m not saying too much here for fear I may incriminate myself…
    Ah, OK then…
    How about accidentally using Dynamic Insertion on ads in an ad group with competitor company names?
    Getting letters from competitors’ solicitors is not the best feeling in the world.

  6. We’ve all been there…thankfully Google have started to try stop you making big bid changes increases and make you confirm the change if it’s a really bid increase. Though, that’s only if you’re making a change within the Adwords interface.

  7. California PPC Manager says

    I made a HUGE mistake in a new PPC Manager role I just got about a month ago. We had budgeted for $4,000 total budget across a month. I don’t know why I did this but we had 30 campaigns we were running and each day we were tapping out very early on budget, so I uped it across all campaigns… not anticipating we were actually going to spend the full amount, just more than the previous amount. I left for the weekend and forgot to check the cumulative spend when I got back… just had other things going on and literally spaced it. Checked later on in the week and we had spent over $15,000. Do you think I’ll be fired? Has this mistake every happened to anyone? How do I rectify this or are there any other free advertising avenues I can take to make up for this a bit. We did get 28 conversions, but I have no idea if they actually sold- we just got a bunch of request to quotes for our company.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Hi California – I hope you won’t be fired. As you can see from this post, these things happen, even to experienced PPC managers. It’s not ideal, but it does happen. Honesty is the best policy here. Go to your boss and explain what happened, and stress the fact that you generated conversions. It’s not your job to close the leads – it’s your job to generate leads, which you did. Talk with your boss about plans forward and make a recommendation: either pause PPC temporarily to save what you otherwise would have spent, take the budget from other marketing areas to cover, etc. Again, since the spend did convert, who knows – you might even get a bigger PPC budget going forward! Good luck, let us know how it goes.

    • Hi.

      I know someone else (not an expert in PPC) who was running their own campaign, who had a somewhat similar experience (they were spending very little a day about 10 times less than their budget) who increased bids and budget a little bit and didn’t check back until they got a bill 10 times bigger than they were expecting.
      They gave AdWords support a ring and expressed their absolute dismay and shock at such a large bill, and Google said as a gesture of goodwill they would refund 50% of the extra spend. (You don’t ask you don’t get).

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