How Most Ecommerce Marketers Mess Up AdWords

I've been in the e-commerce marketing space since 2007 so I've seen a lot of different AdWords accounts.

Many dozens of them, actually.

And pretty much every time, I can count on seeing at least one major mistake in the way the account and campaigns are set up.

In this post I'm going to share the most common mistakes made by ecommerce marketers so you can avoid them.

1. Ignoring Branded Traffic

I see this a lot less these days than I used to but I still hear arguments that bidding on your own branded traffic is a waste of money because those people will find you anyway.

Actually, they may not. Google has slowly given more and more of the screen space to ads which means people have to try harder to find the "organic" listings. If you ignore the branded traffic, your competitors, including Amazon, will fill that space with ads that pull customers away from you.

Plus, we can't control the text of our organic listings based on the search. And we can't always control where our site gets ranked organically. But we can control what our ads say and where our ads rank. 

Bottom line: branded traffic is extremely cheap and extremely profitable and ignoring it is a mistake.

2. Mixing Branded & Non-branded Traffic

This is probably the most common mistake I see. But first let me explain the difference. Branded keywords are phrases that include the name of your brand or product. Non-branded keywords are phrases that relate to your brand or product but do not contain the name of your brand.

For example, "designer wristwatch" is a non-branded phrase, whereas "Nixon designer wristwatch" is a branded phrase (Nixon is a watch brand). It is absolutely critical to keep all branded traffic in a separate campaign from non-branded traffic.

Here's why: branded traffic is cheap and highly profitable. If we keep it in its own campaign, it will have a uniformly high quality score, which will keep the costs as low as possible. 

Also, non-branded search phrases don't convert nearly as well. If we mix branded phrases with non-branded, our conversion data gets muddy. The branded traffic ends up supplementing the non-branded traffic, making it look like its performing better than it is.

Because of that, we are likely to make poor decisions about which keywords are making us money and which aren't.

Keep branded and non-branded traffic separate.

3. Using Broad Match Keywords

There are four ways to target using keywords:

  1. broad match
  2. "phrase match"
  3. [exact match]
  4. +modified +broad +match

I don't like to paint with a broad brush but there is pretty much never a good time to use broad match keywords. Google's algorithm is just too general in matching relevance to broad match for it to be worth using.

There are a couple exceptions, like in Display campaigns, but that's only because Display campaigns only allow for broad match.

Even a Retargeting List for Search Ads (RLSA) campaign is best accomplished using modified broad match. Otherwise, phrase and exact match should get the most usage.

For most campaigns I use exact match for the most profitable searches, phrase match for almost everything else and a handful of modified broad match terms as a way to help identify new phrases.

But broad match? Pretty much never a good idea.

4. Not Tracking Conversions Properly

This issue is definitely rarer today than in the past but it's such a crucial issue that it bears mentioning. You absolutely must turn on conversion tracking for an ecommerce AdWords campaign. 

Failing to do so is like shooting a gun without aiming at a target. You'll have no idea what you did or didn't hit.

And secondly, it's critical to make sure your shopping cart is passing dynamic conversion data back to AdWords, such as the conversion value. We have to know how much money we're making by campaign, ad group, keyword, ad, etc.

Without knowing that, we can't make optimizations and we'll never be as profitable as we could be.

Lastly, if available for your pixel, use the "data-driven" attribution model so it takes into account other channels your customers go through before buying. 

5. Not Rotating Ads & Creatives

Rotating ads and creatives is the only way to hone our messaging. Whenever I setup a new campaign, I always create 3-4 different ads and set the campaign to optimize for the best performing ad.

After gathering data, you'll quickly see which messaging is working and which isn't. Use that to your advantage!

Turn off the poorly performing ads and create new variations to see if you can beat your winner. Resist the urge to do this too often, maybe once a month check out the ad data and write a new one or two.

And you can make use of the copy/paste function to put the same ad in multiple ad groups so it doesn't take up too much time.

Definitely rotate ads & creatives.

6. Failing to Segment Shopping Traffic

I did a detailed write-up of how to segment Google shopping traffic. If you haven't read that yet, I encourage you to implement that strategy. It works extremely well.

I won't repeat it here, but the basic idea is to segment your shopping traffic by past site visitors, low-quality keywords, and high-quality keywords.

This strategy allows you to bid high for people likely to buy and bid low for those less likely. It keeps costs down and profits high.

7. Failing to Segment Retargeting Traffic

This is a similar idea to #6 above. Not all site visitors are created equal. Someone who reached the add to cart page is much more serious than someone who bounced after 30 seconds and one pageview. 

I segment visitors like this:

  • recent buyers
  • initiated checkout
  • add to cart
  • pageviews >3
  • pageviews <3

Think of it like a funnel:

The people at the bottom are much more interested in your product than those at the top, so we should target them accordingly.

Making Your Campaigns As Profitable As Possible

Hopefully this has helped you see a few ways you can improve your own AdWords campaigns. I teach all of my members how to avoid these mistakes and many others in my DIY training.

Or for a managed solution, book a Strategy Session to discuss your e-commerce advertising.

    Leo Ebbert

    Leo Ebbert is a 10-year internet marketing veteran who has helped dozens of E-commerce businesses dominate their space online.

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