Adwords Optimization: 7 Tips to Stop Wasting Your Ad Budget

Colin Munro • July 6, 2017



Google AdWords is one of the best marketing channels available to grow your business.

I spend a ton of time in Google’s advertising system and I’ve seen first hand how it can take a business to the next level on numerous occasions. It’s a platform that’s easy to set up and can get your ads in front of thousands of potential customers in no time (not sold on AdWords? read this).

Sounds great so far, right?

Here’s the kicker…

Google makes it extremely easy to waste your money!

If you’re not careful, you might leave Google with too much control over your budget, potentially burning all of it.

So if you don’t want to look like these guys…


…then keep reading.

Below, I share 7 tips that will help you protect your AdWords budget and stop wasting money needlessly.

1) Tracking conversions is essential

Proper conversion tracking is one of the most important aspects of any AdWords account. If you don’t have accurate conversion tracking, you won’t know which keywords are driving leads and which are burning your budget.

If you don’t know how to do this yourself, find someone that can help.

But before all else, decide which conversions you’re going to track.

A conversion is when you get a visitor to complete an important action on your website, therefore converting them into a lead or a customer for your business.

Conversions can be lead and contact form submissions, content downloads, signups and subscriptions, phone calls, or any other action you deem valuable to your business. What you choose to be a conversion is entirely dependent on your marketing goals.

For example, if you’re looking to measure leads for your home renovation company, a form for a free estimate would be a good idea. If you’re an eCommerce website, you may decide to keep it simple and only measure add to cart and purchase events.

From experience, the 2 most common conversion events we set up for our AdWords clients are website conversions (forms, signups, eComm sales, etc.) and phone calls (using call tracking software like CallRail). Other conversions like app downloads, specific actions and importing data from another system are not as common.

Google has done a great job creating walkthrough guides for setting up conversion tracking, so if you want to take a crack at it yourself, read these first:

How to setup website Conversions with AdWords

How to setup phone call conversions with AdWords

Conversion tracking is the backbone of every AdWords account, and without it, you’ll have no idea how much money you’re burning. Do what it takes to get this done!

2) Using the power of search query reports & negative keywords

The search query report is one of the most valuable tools in AdWords because it uncovers the actual words or phrases that people are typing into Google to find your business through AdWords. This can ultimately reveal user intent which is crucial to the success of any PPC campaign.

Search queries can also help you find the answer to why your campaigns are not converting well. Dive into your search terms by either selecting a single keyword, or all keywords, and see if the search queries are in line with your landing page, product, service, etc.


Search Terms Screenshot


You may find that people clicking on your ad don’t exactly fit your buyer persona, and as a result, you could be wasting budget on the wrong traffic.

If your search query report reveals high-quality traffic searching for your product, then your landing page may be the issue. Make sure your ad copy, images and call to action buttons have an uninterrupted message that speaks specifically to your visitors’ problems.

If you discover wrong search queries are resulting in ad clicks, make sure to add negative keywords to either the account, campaign, or ad group level. If you want to make a negative keyword for the entire AdWords account, navigate to the shared library tab and create a negative keyword list under campaign negative keywords:


Campaign Negatives Screenshot


Then, share this list with all the campaigns in your account:


Campaign Share Screenshot


It’s also smart to create negatives at the campaign and ad group level to prevent the wrong ad from being triggered.

For example, say you have ads for your eCommerce bike store with ad groups for both fixed gear bikes and 5 gear bikes. Make sure “fixed gear bikes” is set as a negative in the “5 gear bikes” ad group. You don’t want the wrong ad to appear and potentially waste money on sending a visitor to the wrong page!

Lastly, search queries allow you to analyze the overall quality of the keyword and its match type. Is it a keyword that generates garbage traffic? Maybe the match type is too broad and bad clicks are wasting your budget. Is it a keyword that targets the perfect kind of searches? Increase the bid to maximize its exposure.

3) Taking advantage of location & time settings

Setting up location and time settings properly sounds so simple that we shouldn’t even need to mention it.

But you’d be surprised how many accounts totally neglect this and pay for it in wasted ad budget.

As far as location setting go, you’ll want to make sure your ads only appear in regions that your business serves. If you’re a local business that only serves specific areas, you’ll want to select “people in my target location” in the campaign settings and choose the regions you service:


AdWords Targeting Screenshot


If you’re a business that isn’t necessarily restricted by physical location, it may be better to target “people in, searching for, or who show interest in my targeted location.”

It’s also smart to break up your targeted regions into smaller areas in order to modify your bids for areas that are performing better or worse, based on your marketing objectives.

For example, if you want to target all of Canada, instead of targeting the entire country as one, select each province individually:


Bid Modifier Screenshot


This way, if a certain province isn’t converting at the expected rate, you can lower your bids and allocate that spend to other provinces that are performing better. The same goes for if you’re targeting just one province—consider breaking it down into multiple areas that make up the bulk of the province’s population.

For your time settings, it is important to know your target audience. When are they likely to search for your product?

If you’re B2B, perhaps office hours may be the way to go. If you’re running a call-only campaign, make sure it runs when the phone will be answered.

And if you offer a 24/7 service…well you should know that one!

As time goes by and data is collected, keep an eye on how each day of the week and hour of the day perform under the dimensions tab.

You may notice, for example, that weekends aren’t producing any leads and your budget is wasting away on Saturday and Sunday. Instead, navigate to the Ad schedule tab under campaign settings and create a custom schedule for each day of the week. Then, use bid modifiers to lower your bids on the weekend:


Weekend Modifiers Screenshot


It’s all about showing your ad at the right time and place to save more money and minimize waste.

4) Get Rid of Non-Converting Keywords

One thing we see a lot of in AdWords accounts is when a handful of keywords carries an entire account.

We’ll see a campaign with dozens of keywords that have good click-through rates, quality scores, and cost per clicks, but only the top 2 or 3 keywords generate any conversions.

In other words, the rest of the keywords kill the conversion rate and cost-per-conversion metrics.

If this is you, you have to filter out these keywords to start saving money. Set the date range for at least the past several months. One month of data is usually not enough to make a decision on pausing a keyword. Filter for keywords that have 0 conversions and X amount of clicks ( at least ~75 clicks for a small-medium account).


Filter Keywords Screenshot


If you’re aware of what your profitable cost-per-acquisition is, you can filter keywords by cost-per-conversion and see what keywords are wasting your money.

Before jumping the gun and pausing a keyword, analyze the actual keyword and search queries. If the search queries aren’t relevant, pause them.

If the keyword and search queries are super relevant, then you have a decision to make. Perhaps waiting a bit longer for a conversion could prove that the keyword just had a dry spell (hey, it happens!).

However, keywords that you think are super relevant sometimes perform poorly for unknown reasons. At the end of the day, data doesn’t lie!

So if you’ve been burning cash on a keyword, it’s usually smart to put out the flames and get rid of the evidence.

5) Improve Keyword Quality Score

Let’s not forget that Google’s search engine is a product and they want more and more people to be using it. To keep their product at the top, they need to serve highly relevant ads that enhance the overall experience for their users.

To make sure ads are relevant to users’ search queries, AdWords hands out a quality score (QS) to your keyword. When your keyword enters an auction for a search query, it’s ranked by the following formula:

Ad Rank = QS x CPC Bid

That is, your Ad Rank is equal to your Quality Score multiplied by your Cost Per Click Bid.

Therefore, the higher your QS, the lower you have to bid for the same rank and the more money you save.

So how do you improve your QS?

The QS for a particular keyword comes down to 3 things:

  1. expected click-through rate
  2. ad relevance
  3. landing page experience.

From our experience, the CTR is the most important of the 3 metrics, and that seems to be the consensus among other PPC experts.

Increasing CTR is an entirely separate science to be studied, but here are a few general tips:

  • Can the keyword have a more relevant ad? Move it to a new ad group with more relevant ad copy
  • Entice users to click. Keep headlines relevant while showing value. Make sure CTR goes up for quality traffic. You could have an enticing ad that’s getting more clicks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right clicks
  • Keep campaigns tightly organized with focused ad groups. At times, even one keyword per ad group can be useful for maximum control over keyword and ad pairings.

Also, don’t forget about ad and landing page relevance! Keep your messaging consistent from the user’s search all the way to a conversion on the landing page. Make sure each step is hyper-relevant to both the search that was made and your keyword.

For more information on AdWords quality score check out PPC Hero’s Ultimate Guide To Google AdWords Quality Score

6) Segmentation is key

Segmenting your data in AdWords is one of the easiest ways to find the culprit of wasted ad spend. Simply hit the drop down menu in your AdWords dashboard and you’ll be able to segment your data in several ways.


Segmenting Screenshot


Where we tend to find wasted spend is in Device and Network segmentation. Segmenting by device will help tell the story of the user’s experience on either mobile, tablet, or desktop.

If you find that mobile is converting at a much lower rate than desktop, look into the user experience on the different devices. This may seem pointless to mention in 2017, but for those of you who don’t know yet, your site needs to be optimized for mobile!

The same goes for desktop or tablet…if the stats are much worse for these devices, look deeper into the situation and make sure they are optimized to convert. From the same drop-down menu, you can also segment by network.

Also, be wary of the Google Search Network:


Search Network Screenshots


Ticking this box means your ads may appear in the search results for non-Google websites, in directories, and other pages related to your search.

Check to see if you’re only getting clicks but no conversionsyou may be throwing money away on the partner’s network. If that’s the case, simply untick the box in the campaign settings and stick to Google only.

7) Eliminate Broad Match Keywords

This last one is my favorite, but it doesn’t work for every account.

Having worked with many AdWords accounts in a variety of industries, we’ve noticed that cutting out broad match keywords improves avg. CPC, cost-per-conversion, and conversion rates…usually.

Before eliminating broad match, check the search queries for that keyword. Often times we’ve found search terms that make us scratch our heads and wonder how in the world our keyword was triggered in the first place.



For example, a customer of ours is in the metal roofing business. Here are some of the search terms for the broad match keyword metal roofing:


Metal Roof Search Terms Screenshot


Some of these searches actually converted, but many aren’t even relevant to metal roofing at all.

Luckily this customer has a decent budget and wants the most leads possible, so broad match is okay in this case.

But if it were a smaller customer with a limited marketing budget, it would be wise for us to change the keyword to modified broad match so that the word “metal” must be in the user’s search query in order to have any ads triggered. This may cut down the volume of leads, but it will also lower the cost-per-lead, reducing wasted spend.

Note: Using broad match keywords isn’t always bad. We have accounts with broad match keywords that convert at the same rate if not higher than other match types. You’ll only find out once you try, so experiment with broad match but keep a close eye on it.


Even though it’s an awesome advertising platform, AdWords can be dangerous (especially for your wallet) if you don’t know your way around it.

Not every AdWords account is hemorrhaging cash, but most have at least one area in which they can cut unnecessary ad spend.

If you follow the 7 simple tips outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to recouping wasted ad dollars that can then be used to drive more leads and sales for your business!

How about you? How do you optimize your AdWords account? Leave a comment below and share any struggles or success stories you’ve experienced along the way.

more traffic leads and sales are just around the corner