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Typical Mistakes When Selecting Keywords For AdWords [Series]

White Shark Media

10 years ago



Keywords are the foundation of any successful Google Ads campaign. You can work hard on writing the most enticing ads, but if youtypical-mistakes-selecting-keywords don’t manage to put your ads in front of the right audience, your efforts will be for nothing.

Choosing the right keywords for your AdWords is a very subjective area. The right keyword depends on your industry or line of business, but also on what kind of budget and growth goals you have.

Furthermore, the lone small business owner needs to deal with capacity on a daily level, whereas e-commerce stores don’t have any capacity challenges.

Therefore, I urge you not to take this list of mistakes as the final truth about Google Ads keyword selection. See it instead as a guiding light that will lead you in the right direction and maintain your focus on what’s truly important.

1) Choosing Keywords That Are Too Broad

AdWords advertising is not banner or newspaper advertising. Let me say that again – AdWords advertising is not banner or newspaper advertising.

I see time and time again small business owners who think that it’s all about getting the most impressions or clicks from Google. They take the mentality of getting the premier advertising space in the newspaper over to AdWords.

This causes many advertisers to chase number 1 positions and use keywords that are too broad for their own good. Google AdWords is about getting relevant clicks from qualified customers while keeping your impressions at a minimum.

Examples Of Keywords That Are Too Broad

  • Computer: A computer repair business that is advertising on the word computer is clearly missing the point.
  • Car Repair: If you only repair a certain brand of cars, this keyword would be too broad to attract relevant clicks.
  • Protein Powder: If you only have 5 different protein powders, you don’t have a big enough selection to target such a broad audience.

I have even seen advertisers go to extremes and use keywords like:

  • PS (as in PlayStation)
  • Grass (landscaper)
  • Makeup (Beauty store)

One very important thing to remember when selecting keywords is to always think about the type of person who might search using that keyword. If you can’t align that person directly with what you’re offering, you will need to choose a more specific keyword.

2) Choosing Keywords That Are Too Specific

On the other side of the scale, there are business owners who are overly specific in their keyword selection. I typically see this keyword mistake with advertisers who work in niches or who have mistakenly followed the advice of some so-called AdWords guru.

Keywords tend to be too narrow when you start using 4 or more words per keyword phrase.


  • Best carpenter for doors in Houston
  • Cheap ropes for horseback riding

Both search phrases are highly relevant if you offer what the searcher is looking for. The downside is that in order for your very specific approach to work you need thousands of keywords. For a small business owner, this becomes a hassle not just to create, but to optimize for as well.

The Solution

Instead of getting hung up on keywords that are too specific, I urge you to check your keywords and remove unnecessary words.

Let’s continue with the two examples from before:

Best carpenter for doors in Houston

This keyword can be easily broken down into +carpenter +doors +Houston. This way, you will still be shown for your original keyword, but you will also be shown for other variations like cheap, local, etc.

Cheap ropes for horseback riding

This keyword can be broken into +ropes +for +riding or +horseback +riding +ropes. You will continue to appear for that highly relevant search, but also open your ads to appear for other relevant searches.

Go Broad Only When You’re Advertising In A Small Geographical Area

If you’re advertising in a geographical area smaller than 15 miles in radius, I often recommend choosing broader keywords than usual.

When you’re advertising in a small area, your target audience tends to be rather small (unless you’re advertising in a metro area). This means your goal changes from getting only relevant clicks to making sure you’re top of mind when people are searching for something related to your field.

Therefore, you can allow yourself to go a little broader if you’re advertising in a small geographical area. It’s important to remember that this advice doesn’t count if you sell online, or if interstate companies share your keywords (like the big franchises).

3) Not Utilizing All Match Types

While it’s important to choose the right keyword, you can cripple your performance drastically if you choose the wrong match type.

Continuing with our examples from before. Putting any of the following keywords in the exact match would undoubtedly result in no clicks at all:

  • Best carpenter for doors in Houston
  • Cheap ropes for horseback riding

However, if they were assigned Broad Match, you would potentially see some clicks and impressions (even though I don’t recommend using those keywords).

You must at all times at least utilize two match types:

  • Broad Match Modifier
  • Exact Match

These two match types are the cornerstones of every single campaign we create at White Shark Media. Once an account matures, or if the individual circumstances cause for a change in strategy, we will include more match types. To begin with, we always focus on the exact match. It is highly effective.

4) Not Using Relevant Keyword Modifiers

Keyword modifiers can also be called adjectives. They’re typically words we use to describe a product or service. However, I go a bit further in my definition of keyword modifiers and include any “secondary” keyword that can be put together with a primary keyword.

Examples Of Adjective Modifiers:

  • Cheap
  • Luxury
  • Best

Examples Of Brand Modifiers

  • Nike
  • Samsonite
  • Samsung

Examples Of Generic Modifiers

  • Online
  • Review
  • Test

Examples Of Geographic Modifiers

  • Texas
  • San Francisco
  • NYC

Examples of Industry-Specific Modifiers

  • FDA Approved
  • Size L
  • Certified 

All of these modifiers have one thing in common: they prequalify the users who will see your ads. If you only use a keyword like running shoes, you don’t know if the user is looking for a specific brand, cheap or expensive, buy online or locally, looking for reviews or is ready to buy, etc.

The idea behind using modifiers consists of being more specific about what the user is looking for and presenting a relevant ad that links to the products the user is ready to buy.

Modifiers are crucial for continued profitability with Google AdWords and should be worked on intensively. The broader your geographical targeting is, the more important it becomes to use keyword modifiers.

5) Not Bidding For Your Own Brand Name

If there is a hot subject among Google Ads advertisers these days it’s whether you should be bidding for your brand name. I’m a big advocate of using your own brand or company name as a keyword in AdWords campaigns.

The advantages far outweigh the cost of advertising on your brand name.

Let me first clear this question: Is it worth the investment to spend money on clicks for your brand?

Yes. The cost never exceeds 0.1-1% of your total ad budget if you do it right.

The biggest mistake I see with bidding for your brand name is that advertisers only include the keywords in broad match. The keyword then gets expanded to other non-brand keywords and is increasing the costs.

If you use phrase match and exact match, I promise you that your brand name keyword costs will never exceed 0.1-1% of your total costs.

Benefits Of Using Your Brand Name Keywords

The benefits are plenty. In fact, I can write an entire blog post about them (read my colleague’s post on using your brand name as a keyword), so I’ll just make an overview:

  • Control and test your ad copy
  • Enjoy increased ad space
  • Get insurance against competitors using your brand name
  • Highlight specials or new products
6) Not Starting With Keywords That Will Likely Be Profitable

Granted, this isn’t a particular keyword mistake, but I see it so often that it has to be on my list. Even though you might have some very good keywords that are relevant to your business, there will always be variation in how well different keywords perform.

During my years working with AdWords and especially with the big client count we have at White Shark Media, I have seen the same pattern in many AdWords accounts. The most cost-efficient keywords are always:

Cost-Efficient Keywords For Local Businesses

1) Geographic Keywords: Houston Carpet Cleaner

2) Specific Keywords: Carpet Cleaning Emergency, Steam Carpet Cleaning

3) Generic Keywords: Carpet Cleaning

Cost-Efficient Keywords For Ecommerce

1) Product Names: Nike Roshe run

2) Brand Names: Nike Running Shoes, Nike Shoes

3) Product Categories with Modifiers: Cheap Running Shoes, Running Shoes for Women

4) Product Categories: Marathon Running Shoes

5) Generic Keywords: Running Shoes

The list above is starting from the most cost-efficient keywords. In numerous cases, I’ve seen the product category or generic keywords outperform all the other keyword types by many lengths, but they are also a big investment.

They tend to be very costly, and by using those keywords you will compete against the top of the e-commerce jungle.

Navigating The Different Keyword Strategies Requires Perspective

Choosing the right keywords at the right time for your business can be a difficult challenge. Knowing your options makes it easier to change your strategy if your initial strategy didn’t work out.

If there is one advantage agencies have over in-house advertisers is that we have a broader range of experiences. We see different people try different strategies all the time. Therefore, we know that if the strategy I’m pursuing today doesn’t work out, I will be able to try another strategy tomorrow.

My advice for you is this: Use this blog post as an inspiration in order to adjust your keyword strategy. If you’re not seeing success using brand keywords, I suggest you try specific product category keywords. Likewise, in local, if you’re seeing too high costs by using generic keywords, consider testing only geographic keywords.