Top 20 Mistakes Made By SEM Newbies

People just starting out in SEM often ask for advice. Here's part one of my Do-Not-Do list...

1. Be afraid to ask for help. More than many other group of industry professionals I've ever come across, search marketers take pride in their independence and ingenuity. They love to figure things out... for themselves. But they also love to share what they know. This column is living proof. When I put the call out to my fellow search geeks via three social networks, I got almost 30 responses -- 19 on Facebook, 7 on Twitter, and three on Google+.

2. Not properly structuring your campaigns. Mr. Bill Leake weighed in with no less than six best practices,  including this beginner basic: Get your structure wrong and your campaign will surely self-destruct. (It will self-destruct -- and don't use bad puns, Shirley!)



3. Set it and forget it. Daanish Chishti reminds us not to neglect "ongoing campaign management" such as "bids, negatives, ad copy refreshes, etc." And don't forget to QA all your launches and changes after submitting them. Ron Popeil would not make a good search marketer.

4. Make changes that mess up your quality score. Another hot Leake latte. When you've got a good QS grandfathered in, don't look a Trojan horse in the eye. And pick up "Quality Score in High Resolution" by Craig Danuloff (H/T to Chris Knoch) for a deeper look at QS.

5. Get lazy with ad copy. As Olivia McKinsey observes, "newbies tend to write bad creative." Indeed, there's an art to writingSearchHaiku.

6. Get lazy with ad copy testing. The first rule of testing is that there's no winner. There's always another variable you can test to eke out incremental improvement. Tip of the hat again to Prof. Leake. (Big ups if you guessed the first rule of testing was you don't talk about testing.)

7. Sending traffic to broken or irrelevant landing pages. Beware the Leake-y bucket! You can get the best position with the best copy -- but if your landing page is lacking, you're loot's in the loo.

8. Manually managing campaigns. Not using tools to automate processes like keyword development, bid management, ad testing, cross-channel optimization, inventory synchronization, and URL monitoring is a sinny-sin-sin. (Disclosure: this one I came up with all on my own, but I do work for a company that provides such technology automation tools.)

9. Setting strategies by keyword classification type. Another Leake-ism railing on those who don't set up campaigns based on inherent taxonomy within the context of the brand or product (for example, shirts, shoes, pants) but rather by type of keyword (for example, brand, high volume, tail). SEM campaign management platforms allow you to associate these kinds of dimensions with keywords without having to structure ad groups accordingly, and some even render them moot via true keyword portfolio optimization. Avoid the MacGyver duct tape and move to the head of the class.

10.    Not understanding the fundaments of the auction model. Top bidder does not get top spot. Sorry, Charlie. You're not #Winning on max CPC alone. @WilliamAlvarez, over and out.

11.    Putting all keywords on broad match. Oy vey! It pained me that Reva Minkoff even had to say this, but clearly some of the fresh meat out there is serving campaigns raw.

12.    Not adding negative keywords. Double vey! Alison Tesnar plays the role of Captain Obvious -- but I know we've all made this mistake at least once, and someone took a screenshot of our ad showing up on "ridiculous (if not inappropriate) queries" to prove it. And @DanPerry makes it a clean triple play... I mean vey.

13.    Thinking there's no need to bid on brand terms. But I'm already in the top spot for organic?! Doesn't matter. See?You're welcome. Sincerely, Kris McDermott.

14.    Mis-typing max CPC bids. Speaking from experience, are ya @maffyu?

15.    Using one landing page for several ad groups. Charles Lewis, the SEO Rapper (of kicking my butt at SIS fame) chimed in with this one. Hear my advice, you know it is sage, don't be runnin' ad groups with the same landing page! (Note: rhyme was mine, not Chuck's, hence aforementioned butt-kicking.)

16.    Focusing on the wrong metrics. Leake's last is a lasting lick. You have to measure what matters to your business, not just what can be measured. Key performance indicators (KPIs) fuel everything from bid management to attribution, and getting the wrong inputs is sure to generate wrong outputs.

17.    Not aligning agency and advertiser goals. Michele Markham, who's been making it happen in the agency world since... well, she wouldn't want me to say, knows the importance of making sure the metrics and KPIs you're managing as an agency are defined the same way by your client. Not all leads are created equal!

18.    Setting improper goals. OK, so you've picked the right metrics and aligned your goals. Now make sure the actual number you're going for makes sense. Sure, CPA may make be the right KPI for your biz, but is $20 really the proper target? As Knoch notes, "We only hit what we aim at, and if your aim is off then your entire effort is."

19.    Chase competitors who have a lot more money. Tony Bombacino, the godfather of digital direct marketing, warns the young-uns to avoid the temptation to throw good money after bad, especially when the bad guys have more of it. Instead, he says, come up with PPC and SEO goals to "creatively compete/win."

20.    Doing coke in a photo booth at an AOL party. Um, need I say more?

Tune in to my next column for the back-half of this Top 40 countdown, including inputs from my other friends, followers, and circlers. And feel free to share your own via comments or social nets, and maybe I'll make this a three-parter. Although, here's one last newbie no-no: not knowing how to quit when you're ahead!

4 comments about "Top 20 Mistakes Made By SEM Newbies".
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  1. Alex Edlund from, August 10, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.


    Why, I can't imagine why you would think that?

    Of course, intelligent automation costs money and for the small to medium-sized businesses, this isn't a viable option.

  2. Aaron Goldman from Mediaocean, August 10, 2011 at 11:07 p.m.

    Alexander - indeed, the more robust campaign management platforms may be too pricey for SMBs to use directly but there are plenty of tools that are less expensive (and some even free!) to automate various aspects of SEM. For example, there's Wordstream or Zenya for keyword development and Google Website Optimizer for testing. Also, Clickable and Marin Software have campaign management tools that start at just $499 a month which could be quite viable for SMBs.

  3. Alex Edlund from, August 11, 2011 at 11:53 a.m.

    No doubt there are more affordable automation tools out there for businesses on tight budgets. Heck, it's even free in AdWords! I think we both agree that automation is a bit more complex than what some of these solutions offer. Rules based automation, if mishandled, can seriously hurt your campaigns.

    My second point is that if you're managing a small account with a handful of campaigns, then would you really need automation?

  4. Aaron Goldman from Mediaocean, August 13, 2011 at 6:53 p.m.

    Alex - I think we agree that automation can be more complex than the cheap/free tools offer but I think we disagree on the definition or, rather, the scope of automation.

    I'm not saying all small businesses need to automate their entire campaign development/management process but they can use automated tools to replace human intervention for specific parts of it.

    For example, a tool like Wordstream or Zenya can be used to automatically generate a keyword list rather than manually concatenating in excel or just relying on the keywords suggested by Google (which, of course, are the same phrases recommended to your competitors).

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