Adwords And PPC – The Biggest Money Wasting Mistake That New Users Make

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Adwords, like any tool, is a double edged sword. If used improperly, it can flush your money down the drain. But used correctly, it can be a very powerful driver of sales to your online store. The main problem however, is that most new users fall into the money wasting category.

One of the biggest mistakes that newbie Adwords users make is to misuse broad matching keywords with their campaigns. To illustrate my point, I’d like to tell you about some of the boneheaded mistakes that I made early on with our Adwords campaigns.

As I mentioned in some of my previous articles on How To Use Adwords The Right Way With Your Online Store and The Realities Of Using Adwords Effectively, finding the right keywords to use is an iterative process that requires patience and the right tools.

And the only way to refine your campaigns properly is by refining your analytics tracking as well.

Broad Match Can Waste You Money

The funny thing about search is that there are always people out there that perform searches that you would never expect. For example, we sell linen napkins in our online store so early on in our Adwords campaign, we decided to use the keywords “linen napkins” (even though I’m using quotes here, assume that I’m using broad match) with our Adwords campaigns.

Back when I was more naive, I used to think that this was good enough. But let’s take a look at some of the searches that resulted in clicks to our site.

  • Vintage Linen Napkins
  • Green Color Linen Napkins Cheap
  • Shamrock Linen Napkins
  • Irregular Linen Napkins
  • Essance Linen Dinner Napkins
  • Used Linen Napkins Wholesale

Looking at the list above, we don’t sell any of these things so we are basically throwing our money away for these search clicks! The proper way to refine these campaigns would have been to do the following…

  • Add negative keywords. ie. Don’t match on “vintage”, “green”,”Irregular”,”Essance”,”Used”
  • Add additional keywords or use exact match. ie. Match only on “white linen napkins” which is the only color we sell.

Using Google Analytics The Right Way

Believe it or not, Google Analytics does not provide you with the exact search query information by default. Instead, it just shows you the number of people that clicked on your campaigns based on your campaign keywords only! Just to be clear, all of the above search queries would have been categorized under the keyword “Linen Napkins” by default which basically tells you squat.

The right way to use Google Analytics is to create your own filters to allow you to see the actual search query that was used to land on your webpage. But to do that, you need a tiny bit of technical know how which I will teach you.

Anatomy Of A Search Referral URL

Before we begin, it’s important to understand what a referral URL looks like coming from a search engine. Below is an example from a Google search.

As you can see, there is a lot of information embedded in the URL and we want to be able to extract the search query information in our analytics reports so we can correlate our adwords campaigns to actual searches.

The field that is the most important in the example URL above is the &q=getting+good+grades. The &q field indicates the actual query that was used was “getting good grades” and is the information that we want to extract out.

Create A Google Analytics Filter

What is an Analytics filter? Filters are applied to the information coming into your account to manipulate the final data in order to provide accurate reports.

In this case, we want to filter out the search query so we can correlate it with our Adwords campaign keywords. Please note that the way the following example is written will only work for Google searches. I did it this way to make the explanations simpler.

Here’s a step by step on how to do this

  1. On your analytics home page, create a new profile and name it “Adwords Queries” or whatever you want
  2. Click on the “edit” button next to your newly created profile
  3. Scroll down and click on the “Add New Filter” button
  4. Name your filter “Adwords Query” and fill out the rest of the information exactly as specified below.
    Filter Type:Advanced
    FieldA->ExtractA = Referral &q=([^&]*)
    FieldB->ExtractB = Campaign Medium (ppc|cpc)
    Output To->Constructor = Custom Field 1 $A1
    Hit “Save Changes”
  5. Create another filter, name it “Campaign Term To Query” and fill out the rest of the information as specified below
    Filter Type:Advanced
    FieldA->ExtractA = Custom Field1 (.*)
    FieldB->ExtractB = Campaign Term (.*)
    Output To->Constructor = Campaign Term $B1 ($A1)
    Hit “Save Changes”
  6. On the Profile Settings Screen, reorder the filters such that the “Adwords Queries” filter is applied before the “Campaign Term To Query” filter
  7. You are done!

OK…What The Heck Did We Just Do?

Essentially, the first filter is used to extract out the interesting portions of the referral URL string. For example, let’s break down the following line.

FieldA->ExtractA = Referral &q=([^&]*)

It’s cryptic, but basically it’s parsing the string looking for an &q= symbol. Then it’s grabbing everything that comes after it until the next & symbol (ie. the search query) and shoving it into a variable called $A1. $A1 is used to denote that we want the 1st parenthesized value in field A.

FieldB of this filter merely limits the pattern match to CPC and PPC campaigns only and creates a new custom field.
FieldB->ExtractB = Campaign Medium (ppc|cpc)
Output To->Constructor = Custom Field 1 $A1

The second filter doesn’t do much. It merely correlates the search query with your google adwords keyword so that it shows up in your analytics report as shown below.

cloth napkins (blue+gingham+cloth+napkins)


I apologize if this post was a bit technical but sometimes you have to tap into a tiny bit of code in order to get what you want. Once you have these reports going in analytics, you should have no problems refining your adwords campaigns! Be sure to use negative keywords in your campaigns as soon as you discover a false search.

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26 thoughts on “Adwords And PPC – The Biggest Money Wasting Mistake That New Users Make”

  1. McLaughlin says:

    I was recently reading how adwords has such a small ROI. That FaceBook advertising is much more targeted and actually brings in people that are willing to buy.

    (add that to the new facebook email and google will slip to the #2 position by summer)

    1. Steve says:

      Interesting. My ROI from Adwords is extremely high. It’s so good that I completely max it out. Haven’t tried Facebook yet, but I’ve heard conflicting stories about the effectiveness of its demographic targeting. Just looking at my Facebook page right now, I’m getting ads for a hot tub time machine…not very targeted in my opinion. In any case, my buddy Adam from tells me it’s worth a shot so I’m going to give it a try sometime in the near future

  2. WBS says:

    Great tips and thanks for the custom filter instruction!

    Unless I’m confident that I can identify all of the negative keywords for a given keyword phrase, I almost always avoid broad match and stick to exact and sometimes phrase…

    1. Steve says:

      In general that is an excellent policy to have. For me, I tend to introduce broad match keywords a little bit at a time until I’ve made sure that I’ve covered most of the negative keywords before I add another. Baby steps is the way to go.

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  4. Xurxo Vidal says:


    It takes courage to admit your mistakes with adwords publicly, so hats off to you for sharing so others can benefit!

    Using negative keywords especially when using broad match keywords is a must like you pointed out. To add to your advice, one strategy you can use to find negative keywords before you pay for traffic from them is to use the Google adwords keyword tool (

    When you’re doing your keyword research using this tool, you’ll not only get to see what keywords are getting searched more often and how much you can expect to pay to have you ads appear in certain positions, but you’ll also be able to identify keywords that you don’t want to get traffic for and add them in as negative keywords BEFORE you even launch your campaign and spend any money on irrelevant traffic from them.

    Also important here is that you’ll reduce the number of impressions on your ads which will help your CTR (Click Through Rate). CTR is the most important metric that Google uses to calculate your quality score so the better your CTR, the better your quality score.

    Why is your Quality Score important?

    Because it determines how much you’ll have to pay per click relative to your competition to have your ads show up in certain positions. So the higher your quality score is the less you have to pay per click to have your ads show up in higher positions.

    For more info on Adwords’ Quality Score check out a blog post I put together that includes video from Google explaining it in simple terms:

    To your continued success Steve!

    1. Steve says:

      Excellent point! You can do a pretty good job of filtering out the negative keywords before you even launch your campaign! I have to get you to write a guest post for this blog at some point if you’re willing.

      Glad you found the article useful!

  5. Mike King says:

    Steve, I always love these kind of technical tips. Great way to immediately add more value to Google analytics. This is awesome!

  6. Ricky says:

    Informative as well as a bit technical post . Keep on i want to hear more from you.

  7. The Rat says:

    I just opened an AdWords account b/c Google just sent me a $100 voucher. I just recently started a new campaign, created my ad, entered my keywords, and set my minimum ppc to be $2.00 and my daily budget to be around $6.00 per day. For some reason, I have had nobody click on my site at all, and the only thing I see is that my $100 is down to $90 because there was a $10 activation fee. I guess I’ll have to spend more time experimenting and reading up on it.

    Nice post.

  8. Mitchell Allen says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for sharing this informative post!
    The filter tutorial is really helpful, as I am just beginning to play with Google Analytics.



  9. Lana-Daring Clarity says:

    Wow, that’s the information I needed, I plan on starting my campaign this week. Thanks Steve!

  10. Xurxo Vidal says:

    Steve, it would be a pleasure to put together a guest post on PPC or Adwords for your readers.

    Looking forward to discussing further…

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  12. Carry says:

    I’m sorry to break the fun but this seems not to be working, there is no query information in the refferal from google ppc campaigns nowadays.

    1. Steve says:

      The filters are still working for me. I just checked on yesterday’s stats. Perhaps you installed the filters incorrectly. I doubt that Google would take away the ability to check which keywords people were typing in for Adwords.

  13. Ronnie C. Albastro says:

    Really it is wasting money if you miss used adwords. Adwords may help us a lot specially for your advertising needs. It is really life changing when we hit the right target for our business, we may think it is not fully achieving the goals we set but it is, really it is. Making your advertisement more attractive and more productive and highlighted is more likely gathers the input we want to. Like what I did I have a lot of ideas gather and apply to it. It is a comforting for us to see progress when the idea we acquire is effective. We really believed in the sayings “Two heads is better than one” so I apply all the necessary concepts to make my advertising more grateful and effective. Follow this link to have free ppc tools.

    Thank you,

  14. William says:

    Hi – this is a very interesting post, but I have a question – where can I see the results of these filters? Is there a specific Analytics report that lists the query terms used to find my page, now that I’ve configured these filters? Thanks!

  15. Steve says:

    Once you’ve implemented the filters correctly, you will be able to see the keywords along side of your adwords keywords in your Google analytics reports.

    You can go to “all traffic sources” and click on “google (cpc)”

  16. Joudie says:

    Adding negative keywords is a must…. this help filter out all the unneeded traffic and not let advertising dollars go to waste. Also writing a compelling ad helps out alot to boost your ctr… its always good to do split ad testing….

  17. BBMF says:

    I must be doing something wrong or the instructions have changed because I cannot even get to the 1st step in creating a new profile or filter. Hard to tell to what extent things apply bc MWQHJ posts don’t seem to be dated.. but since I saw somewhere else on your blog that you try to keep things relevant and updated if changes so thought I’d give a shout-out!

    Definitely eager to set things up properly from the get-go so I can properly refine campaigns and leverage Adwords as you describe.

    Thanks so much for all you do!

    1. Steve C says:

      Believe it or not, everything in this post still applies. The only thing is that Google constantly moves the menus around. If you manage to locate the filters menu, you should be able to follow the instructions more or less verbatim. The other thing to note is that a lot of this keyword research functionality has been moved directly to the Adwords interface for your convenience.

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