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Most Google Ads advice is wrong for small businesses

This is for you if you're running - or thinking of running - your own Google Ads.

A common approach goes "I'll start myself and then when the ads are profitable I'll hire an agency and they'll get even better results."

But, this often ends in disappointment - paying Google month after month and never getting the hoped-for sales.

I've spoken to hundreds of DIY advertisers in the 17+ years I've been involved with Google Ads. They often come to me with reasons why they think their ads aren't working:-

Sometimes they're right. But more often their ads never had a hope in hell of becoming profitable. That's because they'd made the wrong decisions on some key settings.

I think it was my friend Peter Carruthers who first told me

A small business is not just a little big business. It's a completely different beast.

That's true for Google Ads too.

A small business Google Ads account isn't a big account with a smaller budget.

A small account needs a different setup and different management. You see, something that improves a $50 000 a month account might tank a $500 a month account.

But, the problem is that Google doesn't have a single strand of small business in their DNA. Everything in your Google Ads account assumes you're a Fortune 500 company:-

Independent advice shares the same problem. A lot of it only makes sense for bigger accounts.

Today I'd like to give some advice specifically for smaller accounts using Google Ads for generating leads.

It'd be impossible for me to cover every single decision you could make in your Google Ads account. But, there are some settings that will almost always lead to more leads at a lower cost for smaller accounts.

Network settings.

Probably the best setting: Disable search partners and display network.

Why: At the time of writing search partners and the display network are responsible for most of the click fraud and junk leads.

Location options.

Probably the best setting: If it's important to control where in the world people who see your ads are set it to Presence: People in or regularly in your targeted locations.

Why: The default setting 'Presence or interest' has a very broad definition of what it means to be interested in your location. Tends to show your ads to people all over the world.

Auto-apply.

Probably the best setting: Disable auto-apply on all recommendations.

Why: Google recommends changes to your account that might improve its performance. If you enable auto-apply they'll make these changes without waiting for your approval. Some of their suggestions risk worse performance in smaller accounts.

Instead review the suggestions, understand what the impact is likely to be, and then apply only those changes you're comfortable with.

Negative keywords.

Probably the best setting: Add negative keywords to your campaigns before launching them.

Why: Negative keywords help teach Google's AI who to show your ads to. The earlier you give the AI this information the fewer times your ads will show for the wrong kind of searches.

Negative keyword lists.

Probably the best setting: Use negative keyword lists instead of adding negative keywords to individual campaigns.

Why: Negative keyword list can be linked to more than one campaign. For instance, you might keep a list of negative keywords to stop job-seekers from seeing your ads. Instead of adding the keywords to every campaign, you could add them to one list and they'd apply to the linked campaigns.

It's less work to keep updated and reduces the chance of forgetting to add a negative keyword to a campaign.

Maximise conversions bidding strategy.

Probably the best setting: If you're going to use the maximise conversions bidding strategy, use the portfolio version of this strategy.

Why: The portfolio version allows you to set a maximum cost per click. This prevents the occasional madness where you get charged $300 when your average cost per click is $20.

Broad match keywords.

Probably the best setting: Only use broad match keywords when:-

Why: Broad match keywords give most control to the AI. Unless you've given it guardrails (negative keyword lists) and feedback (conversions) it won't be effective .

Spreading the butter too thin (advertising everything you do).

If you grew up poor you'll remember your mom spreading butter on your sandwiches. She'd scrape as much off as she put on.

Probably the best setting: If you've got a limited ad budget focus it on one facet of your business instead of advertising everything you do.

Why: If you ran a law firm and took on wills, prenups, divorce, adoption, employment law, and personal injury cases you could advertise everything. But 100 clicks spread out across adverts for wills, prenups, divorce, adoption, employment law, and personal injury cases won't tell you what's working as quickly as getting 100 clicks on your ads for wills will.

Once you've got one facet working you can move onto the next.

Spreading the butter too thin (advertising everywhere).

Probably the best setting: If your business serves clients from many places and you've got a limited ad budget focus on one area only. Like advertising every facet of your business, you get better faster when you've got your data concentrated instead of spread out.

Performance Max campaigns.

Probably the best setting: Don't start advertising using a Performance Max campaign even though it's the default campaign type.

Why: At the time of writing Performance Max campaigns only do well when they have a lot of impressions, clicks and conversions. Smaller accounts don't get enough impressions, clicks and conversions to make them sing. Instead stick to search campaigns to start with.

If you've found this useful please let me know and I'll expand on the list.

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