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Help, Google’s Showing the Wrong Ad!

Published: December 30, 2013

Author: Katie Walton

You’ve spent hours crafting a well-structured campaign broken down into ad groups with a limited number of highly relevant terms within them. Each ad group has a carefully tailored ad that speaks to the stage the user will be at in the buying cycle and utilises your keywords.
Then you check your search query reports and discover that the ad for one ad group containing a short tail keyword is showing in place of all your thoughtful ads. A *head desk* moment if ever there was one.
Welcome to the wonderful world of search query crossover.
Why Should I Care If Google Shows the Wrong Ad?
It’s all about money at the end of the day – if a user sees the wrong ad at the wrong moment, he/she may be put off spending with you. Not only are you the cost of a click down, but also the potential (lifetime) value of the customer has been lost.
Yeah, it’s a bit melodramatic, and it may be that the difference between one ad and another isn’t significant, but if you’ve honed your messages to perfection, do you want to take the chance?
How Do You Know If You’ve Got an Issue With Crossover?
There are times when it’s obvious that your detailed account structure isn’t working – 100 ad groups with 0 impressions and 1 ad group with 10,000 is a bit of a giveaway. Most of the time, though, it isn’t clear at a glance that you’ve got a problem.
That’s why you need to use pivot tables to get a clear picture of what’s happening with your account. Wijnand Meijer has written a clear guide to using Excel to find out if ad groups are triggering the same search query in your account. Read it, follow the instructions, then come back to find out what to do next.
What Can You Do to Prevent Crossover?
There are a few ways around this problem:
1. Only use exact match on head terms. Personally I don’t like this option – especially for a new campaign – you’re preventing all kinds of weird and wonderful search queries that just might be profitable that your keyword research may not have discovered.
That said, it is a sure-fire way to ensure that your head term isn’t gobbling up the impressions. (Assuming you’ve opted out of near match, of course.)
Note: A variation on this concept is the 3Q Digital way – using an Alpha Beta Account Structure to both capture new queries and have complete control over converting keywords. Download their guide for more on this approach.
2. You might choose to bid lower on your short tail keywords and higher on more specific longer phrases. You should be willing to bid higher on the phrases that are more likely to convert, so this is a logical approach to structuring your bids.
However, bid is just one aspect of the ad rank calculation, so this alone is rarely enough to prevent crossover.
3. Use negative keywords to reinforce your structure and ensure that the right search queries match the right ad groups.
Look at your ad groups to decide whether one ad group is likely to trigger search queries that belong in another group – your pivot table should help with this – then apply broad match negatives to stop crossover happening.
So, for example, if you were promoting Hershey’s chocolate syrups, you might have ad groups bidding on just the brand name, a separate ad group for Hershey’s syrups, and a separate one for Hershey’s chocolate syrups.
The Hershey’s brand ad group could match search queries like Hershey’s syrups and Hershey’s chocolate syrups, so you should add -chocolate and -syrups to the main brand ad group. The Hershey’s syrups ad group could match Hershey’s chocolate syrups, so you should add -chocolate to this ad group. Hershey’s chocolate syrups isn’t going to match search queries from the other groups, so you don’t need to add negatives. See diagram.


Ad groups containing head terms will have the most negatives in them whereas your longer tail ad groups will have few – or none – at least to start off with.
Realistically, you may need or want to use a combination of these techniques to prevent crossover. While bidding is unlikely to do the job on its own, it’s still a sensible approach that can be used along with negative keywords to guide AdWords to picking the right ads all the time.
Have you ever had problems with Google displaying the wrong ads? How did you combat it?

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