Beginner’s Guide To Google AdWords

Have you ever said “AdWords Doesn’t Work”?

As an AdWords manager and consultant, I’ve heard this phrase more times than I can count. It’s usually a variation of “special snowflake syndrome” where a business owner thinks their business model or their location is unique or special… and that’s the reason AdWords doesn’t work for them.

More commonly, it comes down to their product or service.

I have shown business owners that their customer service rep is not answering the phone 50% of the time (seriously!) or that they are directing people to their competition because they are “not competitive” on price (I wish I was making this up).

One client just closed his doors even though we were driving highly qualified, “ready-to-buy” leads right to his email and phone. He discontinued his AdWords account about 3 months ago.

Now these are operational issues, and while equally important to the success of any business, I’m going to focus specifically on the AdWords side of this equation.

I audit an equal number of clients that say they are spending $500 or $1000 a month, but have no idea how or if they are getting any return on that investment. This make me cringe.

A major benefit of online marketing is that it is much more trackable than traditional forms of advertising. You can easily tweak or turn something off if it’s not working. Inversely, you can double-down on what is.

Let’s run through a couple things that might make someone say “AdWords doesn’t work” and how you can fix them:

Conversion Tracking

Conversion tracking should be the first thing you set up. Before you even choose keywords or put your credit card number in.

If you have Google Analytics installed and linked (which you should) this is an easy task. All you have to do is create a goal with the destination of your ‘thank you’ or ‘check out’ page.

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Then you can hop back over to AdWords and simply import that goal. There used to be a 48-72 hour delay on goal importing but Google recently lowered it to only 9 hours.

A lot of small businesses want phone calls. There are a few ways to accomplish this, but they can be slightly more difficult to track.

Click-to-call ad extensions are a great way to make it easy for potential customers to call you directly, skipping your website entirely. When you set them up, Google will create a ‘Call from ads’ conversion. You can tweak the call duration that counts as a conversion to help get more accurate data. The default is 60 seconds, but if you usually need a 4-minute call to schedule an appointment or close the deal, change this accordingly.

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Did you know if someone calls the number in your ad on a desktop it’s free?

But what if someone clicks over to your website and then calls the number you list there? Are you tracking those calls? Google has a solution for this but it can be a little tricky to set up and has limitations like only allowing you to track one number.

To track calls from your website, I recommend a solution like CallRail. All you have to do is install a single line of code on your site and manage everything else through their software. You also get benefits like call recording and scheduling.

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Campaign Type

I see way too many accounts that choose ‘Search with display select’. The Search Network and the Display Network are two different animals. You will have different budgets, targeting, ads, tactics, strategy, etc. so you won’t want these combined in one campaign.

Google recommends an option that might get you a lot of traffic, just not qualified traffic. Stick with the ‘Search network only’ here:

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I guess this could be considered Account Type, but another area where I see terrible results is when people use AdWords Express. When you sign up for Google My Business, AdWords Express is front and center and Google will happily give you $100 to get you to sign up.

The system will pick keywords for you based on a category and broadly target them so you will reach amazing amounts of unrelated searches. Avoid this like the plague.

Keyword Research

Proper keyword research for PPC is crucial to a successful AdWords campaign.

Google provides a free keyword planner and there are a number of other free and paid tools to assist in this process.

We won’t go into a full PPC keyword research article here as this would be a post or two on this topic alone. Just know that you almost never want to use a single word keyword and you want to target as narrowly as you can while still getting a decent search volume.

Don’t just add a bunch of keywords that Google suggests as that is a surefire way to both add too many keywords and irrelevant keywords.

My favorite way to start this process, before I even touch any of those keyword tools, is to talk to the business owner and the customers:

  • Listen to the specific language they use.
  • How are they similar? What is different?
  • Read reviews of their product or service – and the reviews of competitors.

This will give you a great starting point, as well as a way to show how industry-specific language differs from the general public.

Landing Pages

Are you sending most of your traffic to your homepage? Don’t do that.

You want to send traffic to the most relevant page on your website. Reduce the number of clicks and effort for people to do business with you.

Do you offer fence repair? Send potential customers to the page where you talk about fence repair. Mention a few features and benefits (1 Year Warranty, On Time Guarantee). Then give people an easy and obvious way to contact you.

This doesn’t have to be fancy. Simple language and clear calls-to-action are usually best.

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Ad Copy

Promote benefits over features. Instead of saying “10,000 Sq. Ft. Of Workout Space”, say “Enough Room For A Baseball Team To Train”. Space is limited so you need to sell people in under 70 characters. You can expand on your ad copy on your landing page.

Using a call-to-action is another important part of your ad copy. You need to direct (tell) people what to do next: download a guide, call for a quote, buy today. 

Putting those together, your ad might look like this:

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Ad Extensions

Ad Extensions are no longer optional. Google might not prompt you to use them, but they are a factor in your ad rank, make your ads larger and more prominent, increase CTR and provide extra information and validation to your ads.

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See how the review from Fortune, the structured snippet and the sitelinks all enhance the ad?

Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular ad extensions:

  • Sitelinks allow you to direct people to other relevant landing pages.
  • Callouts are like bullet points where you can highlight benefits and features (allowing you more room to say what you want in your main ad copy).
  • Location extensions allow people to get directions.
  • Call extensions make it easy for people to call you with one click.
  • Structured snippets let you highlight a list of services, neighborhoods, styles, types, etc.
  • Reviews are a great third-party endorsement.

You need to add any and all ad extensions that make sense for your business. I suggest adding them at the account or campaign level to start and if you want to get more specific, you can add them at the ad group level.

Negative Keywords

Google recently made this “setting” less hidden, but I still find at least 50% of the small business accounts I audit are missing negative keywords.

I recommend using an account-wide negative keyword list to remove any generic searches for things like ‘jobs’ or ‘pictures’. Using the shared library in AdWords, you can easily apply this to all of your campaigns.

Then you can get more specific and exclude similar, but irrelevant terms. For example, let’s say you are targeting “carpet shampoo” for the home consumer – you might want to exclude “industrial” or “machine”. Take a look at related searches in Google or Ubersuggest for more ideas.

Get Creative

There are cases where it might not seem like people are searching for your product or service, but you can reach them. A few ideas:

  • Is there an industry or product-specific conference or association?
  • Are there related products?
  • Does search volume spike seasonally?

If you get creative, you will find ways to effectively target in nearly any market.

To be fair, there are a few scenarios where AdWords doesn’t work:

  • No one is searching for your solution. Maybe it’s a brand new product or industry.
  • Hyper local AND small niche. If you only provide a product or service in an extremely small population and it is not something people search for often, it will be difficult to reach people with AdWords.
  • Your solution (product or service) sucks. Harsh maybe, but this is common.

Many times, where AdWords isn’t a good fit, Facebook Ads excel. In fact, I’ve recently been getting 60% (and higher) lead conversion rates with flex targeting… but that’s an article for another time.

The most important reason people say AdWords doesn’t work is because they don’t spend the time to learn and improve. You need to invest time learning the platform and reading the countless guides and blogs out there. Want to take it a step further? Hire a consultant if you want to do it yourself or invest in expert AdWords management.

Want to know more? I wrote a guide on 16 AdWords Default Settings To Avoid. You can grab a copy over at


Ross Kaplan-Winn (@paidinsights) consults on digital marketing strategy and the best ways to profitably grow a business online from his home base in Denver, Colorado. He also teaches small businesses and entrepreneurs how to make AdWords work for their business at