How To Stop Wasteful AdWords Clicks

Nearly all Google AdWords campaigns waste a portion of their budget on clicks for irrelevant keywords. Business owners are often unaware of this happening. As a result wasted clicks can consume a significant portion of a campaign’s AdWords budget.

Why does this happen? How can you stop it? Let’s go through three actionable ways to significantly reduce wasteful clicks in your campaign.


 1. Choose Your Keyword Match Types Carefully


If you’re not familiar with Google AdWords match types – we’ve written about how they work here.

Once you understand how match types works, here are a few dos and donts.

Don’t Use Broad Match (Unless You Know What You’re Doing)

Broad match is the most common culprit when it comes to mismatched keywords. With broad match (the default option for keywords in AdWords) Google will show your ads not just for the keyword you’re bidding on but also for a broad range of extended phrases and even automatically selected synonyms and related phrases. That’s why it’s called broad match. Google likes broad match because it increases the number of keywords entering each ad auction. Advertisers however sometimes end up often paying for keywords they don’t want to pay for.

One of the easiest fixes to an AdWords campaign is to not use broad matching at all, or to used it very carefully. To start – use stricter matching options such as phrase match, exact match or broad match modifier.


Determine The Right Match Type For Each Keyword

Different keywords might need different match types.

  • Use phrase match if the order of the words in the phrase is important. For example a business might be interested in customers searching for “moving from Australia to New Zealand” but not for those searching for “moving from New Zealand to Australia”
  • Use broad match modifier for important words in a search query that should not be substituted with a synonym or dropped out of the search query
  • Use exact match for keywords that have too many irrelevant extensions and variations to control in other ways

Note: match types cannot be combined, e.g. you can’t use phrase match and broad match modifier in the same keyword


2. Use Negative Keywords


A negative keyword works just like you think it does – it prevents your ad from showing when a word or phrase is used as part of a search query. You can set ad group or campaign specific negative keywords.

Here are a few common uses for negative keywords

  • services and products you don’t support – for example if you’re selling air conditioners you might not want traffic for air conditioner spare parts or for air conditioner maintenance. You may decide to bid on the phrase match for “air conditioner” but add spare parts and maintenance as negative keywords
  • low value keywords – depending on your business model you might not want to pay for keywords that include words suggesting a low sale value such as cheap, free, second hand, diy or used
  • locations you don’t support –  it’s important to exclude locations you don’t support with negative keywords, irrespectively of your campaign’s geographical settings. That will reduce ad impressions for people who although are in your target area, are searching for services or products outside of it. This happens more often than you might think!
  • informational queries – unless you’re providing an informational product or service it’s often not worth paying for strictly informational queries such as how to questions and other clearly non-commercial queries

Interested to find out more about negative keywords? Here are 6 common negative keyword mistakes and how to avoid them.

3. Review Search Term Reports



How do you keep tabs on what search queries your ads are actually showing for? Google AdWords has a tool for that. It’s called the “Search Term Report” and you can find it in your Keywords tab under the “Details” dropdown (pick Search Terms -> All).

Review your search term report regularly to monitor what people who have clicked your ads have actually searched for. Do you see see search terms you shouldn’t be paying for? Add the trouble-causing words to your negative keyword list. If you see a lot of search terms that don’t match what you sell, consider if you need to change the match types on some of your keywords to more stricter ones.

How often do you need to review your search term report?

Depending on the size of your campaign you’ll want to do it anywhere from once to a few times per month. It’s also a good idea to check your search term report a few days after making major changes to your keyword scope.

Using the above tactics you’ll be able to significantly reduce the number of wasted clicks in your campaign. Reviewing accounts over the years I have sometimes seen campaigns where over 80% of search terms were mismatched and wasted budget. While most campaigns are not in such dire circumstances every advertiser will benefit from monitoring their search terms carefully.


Photo credits – caution tape: vxla (CC BY 2.0); stop sign: Rich Anderson (CC BY-SA 2.0).


Nemek has been professionally managing Google AdWords campaigns since 2009 and is AdWords certified through the Google Partners program.