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AdWords session-based ads irk advertisers

Google AdWords could arguably be the best advertising platform ever for small and medium-sized businesses ever, but mastering it to maximize ROI and minimize waste isn’t easy.

AdWords can be dangerous for the novice advertiser thanks in large part to a dizzying array of options and settings which, when not understood or recognized, can mean the difference between prosperity and disappointment.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, a growing number of advertisers are discovering that they’re losing out because of one of Google’s broad match features that targets ads based on searches a user performs during his or her Google session.

The problem, some advertisers claim, is that these session-based ads aren’t always targeted so well. The Wall Street Journal says that medical professionals who use AdWords to advertise their services are among the hardest hit.

Some, for instance, apparently see their ads displayed on searches that are completely unrelated to their practices. For example, some of the medical professionals the Wall Street Journal interviewed report seeing their ads on searches related to haircuts and limo services. One cosmetic dentist claims that $3,000 of the $40,000 he spent on AdWords since 2009 has been wasted on such ads.

Google, of course, says that these incidents are not reflective of AdWords in general, and that the “overwhelming majority” of advertisers aren’t experiencing these issues. Truth be told, advertisers who are experiencing them may still find AdWords to be far more effective than other forms of advertising. After all, there is always some waste in advertising.

Yet the fact that these sorts of issues are gaining Wall Street Journal-level attention highlights the challenges Google has in reaching out to small businesses, something that it is looking to do a lot more of today.

Not only is Google tasked with making AdWords more approachable for business owners who often have little tech savvy and even less time, it has to make sure that features, such as those related to broad matching, aren’t causing advertisers to feel like they’re losing out.

After all, for small and medium-sized businesses, AdWords is generally a self-serve proposition and Google has little personal contact with its customers. That means that it’s real easy for advertisers to leave if they see underperforming clicks that are coming from search queries that seem tenuous at best.

The question now is just how focused Google is on its bread and butter: search. The company’s organic search and paid search seem to be generating far more negative attention these days. While some of the issues have existed for a while, and it hasn’t always been all positive (click fraud issues have been around for a while for instance), one has to wonder if Google is feeling a little bit too comfortable about the market that keeps the lights on and bills paid.

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