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Why Marketers Shouldn’t Blindly Follow Google’s Recommendations

By Mark Harnett

As a performance marketing consultant, I spend a lot of time working with clients on their Google Ads. One of Google’s newer features is its automated recommendations for marketers. These suggestions are intended to help optimize your account and increase your return on investment (ROI). However, it's important to understand that not all of Google's recommendations are in your best interest. Using the lessons I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – here’s my advice on when to follow and when to dismiss Google’s recommendations.

Oftentimes Upgrade Your Existing Keywords To Broad Match

One recommendation that Google often makes is to upgrade your existing keywords to broad match. Broad match allows for variations on search terms, which can be useful in some cases. However, it's important to use discretion when implementing this.

If you're trying to target a specific term or keywords that have multiple contexts, using exact match may be more effective.

Broad Match

For example, a teenager who wants to get around a firewall and an enterprise executive who's buying a million-dollar firewall solution can both search for “firewall,” read a landing page and fill out the same web form, and Google will think they're equivalent. Weeding out the executive’s inquiries from the teenager’s might require using exact matching. Being able to distinguish between “firewall,” “enterprise firewall solution,” and “firewall reviews,” is important.

Sometimes Raise Your Budget

Another recommendation that Google may make is to raise your budget. This can be a good idea if you have the funds to do so, but it's important to keep in mind that there are other ways to manage your budget, such as lowering the cost per customer. It's also worth considering your financial position, goals, and strategic decision-making before increasing your budget.

Raise Your Budgets

Never Expand Your Reach With Google Search Partners

Non-Google websites can run Google Search ads and listings as so-called “search partners” to extend your reach, but it also presents a big problem: Google has less control over the traffic. Spammers earn money by having robots click on ads and fill out forms on their own websites, resulting in junk leads.

Google Search Partners

I've personally had a bad experience with this, spending $50,000 on search partner ads and receiving a lot of worthless traffic. Until Google can address this issue, I will not be turning on search partners again.

Cautiously Use Display Expansion

Display ads are shown on pages where people are browsing content, rather than actively searching for something. This can be a good way to increase visibility for your brand, but traffic from display ads may not be as targeted and convert less well than traffic from search ads.

Display Expansion

Display ads also suffer from spammers that set up websites specifically to host display ads and robo-click them to make the ads seem valuable. It’s hard to avoid this problem unless you've got good controls on the back end. Putting CAPTCHA on your forms can help, but high-value ads can pay out up to $100 for a single click, at which rate a company can hire a person to get around the CAPTCHA. That’s why there are very few circumstances in which I would use display expansion.

If you do want to run ads on the display network, be sure to break them into their own campaign, so that you can clearly track the quality and behavior of the traffic, rather than having it hidden by being blended with the search traffic.

Maybe Create A Performance Max Campaign

Performance Max, a relatively new campaign type from Google, puts everything on automatic and takes control away from human practitioners like me. Google uses its machine learning to find people to fill out your form or become customers. Theoretically, that makes a lot of sense Google should do a better job than a person like me guessing.

But if your website isn’t instrumented well, that automation isn’t going to provide good results. Google can sometimes optimize for the wrong thing, and if it does, Performance Max can drive lots of cheap traffic, not necessarily the traffic you want. This option can be very powerful, is easy to set up, and probably works for 80% of the situations out there. But it can also waste a lot of money if it doesn't have the right controls. So, I’d be cautious about following this recommendation.

Always Look Out For Yourself

As you can see, in most cases it’s not a good idea to blindly follow Google’s recommendations. Keep in mind what the incentives are. Overall, Google is trying to make you more efficient so that you spend more money on their platform and not in other places. But it's not black and white. In general, I default to accepting their recommendations, but I used to accept them more blindly than I do now. There are circumstances where you need to be looking out for yourself.

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About Mark Harnett

Mark Harnett has run hundreds of campaigns for both high volume consumer products and high value business contracts. He has made lots of mistakes and also found some huge improvements using many of the techniques outlined here.

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