How to Fix Underperforming Google Ads Campaigns

The ultimate guide and checklist for getting underperforming Google Ads back on track

Picture the scene. 

You’ve researched your target keywords, separated them into ad groups, written your ads, and now your campaigns are ready to start driving results. After a final check, with a mixture of excitement and fear, you launch your campaigns. 

You keep refreshing the interface every five minutes, and you start seeing the first Impressions and Clicks. 

Or maybe… you don’t. 🙁 

You decide to check later in the day. After all, the system needs time to start processing your data and reporting results.

You check a few hours later, and indeed, there are some Impressions and Clicks, but no Conversions. Red alert notifications start appearing in the top right of the screen. 

A few days later, your campaigns have spent a considerable amount of your monthly budget, but they still haven’t generated any Conversions. 

Or perhaps there are too few Conversions, and the cost per conversion (CPA) is higher than you anticipated. 

You decide to wait a few more days, as the campaigns are still new, and you need more data to make decisions. More time passes, and you start to develop a bad feeling. Things aren’t quite going as they should. 

So, what’s going on? Why aren’t your campaigns converting, and how can you improve them?

Common Reasons for Poor Google Ad Campaign Performance

  • Campaigns are either driving a low number of Impressions, or none at all 
  • Campaigns are driving Impressions, but the Click-Through Rate (CTR) is low. CTRs can vary by industry, with the average CTR being 1.91% for Search and 0.35% for Display and a ‘good’ CTR being 4-5% for Search and 0.5-1% for Display. 
  • Campaigns are driving Clicks, but the Conversions are very low 
  • The Bounce Rate may be high (~80%) or above 
  • Campaigns are driving Conversions, but not as high as you'd anticipated 
  • If your objective is lead generation, you might be spending a lot to acquire leads, and your CPA might be too high 
  • If your objective is to drive sales, the CPA may also be very high and your Return On Ad Spend (ROAS)/Return On Investment (ROI) is too low

What's Going Wrong with your Google Ads? 

Unfortunately, there isn’t usually a single answer as to why your campaigns aren’t performing as they should. There are several settings within your account that could be adversely affecting your performance. 

In this guide, we explore the settings that are likely to improve the performance of your Google Ads campaigns. 

We've also put together a handy checklist at the end of the guide to help you to quickly address each item. 

There are some important questions you need to ask yourself before you start experimenting with the recommendations detailed in this guide:

  • Am I showing ads for the search queries that are most relevant for my business? 
  • Am I communicating my brand’s USPs clearly in my ads, using the right keywords, and encouraging people to click through? 
  • Does my website, and its landing pages, fit logically with the keywords and ads I am using? 
  • Is my audience finding what they need once they are on the website? 

If the answer to any of those is no, then you'll need to address those issues before proceeding.

Google Ads Checklist 

  1. Date Range 

It may seem obvious, but sometimes the issue lies in something as simple as the date ranges you are analysing. Check the date range in the top-right hand corner of the screen. Does it correspond to the dates that you launched the campaigns? If not, change the dates to those that you need to be looking at. 

  1. Ad Schedule 

When are your ads running? Are they running all the time or have you got them set for just a few hours per day? Are they running at weekends? 

This is important to review, as although limiting your campaigns to certain timeframes can be useful for increasing budget efficiency, hours that are too restrictive can also decrease the volume of Impressions. 

If this is the case, try expanding the times that your ads are running. 

If you’re unsure, you can check and amend your ad schedules at both account level and campaign level, from the left side bar.

  1. Ad Status

Ads being 'Disapproved', or 'Approved (Limited)' can cause Campaigns to lose potential Impressions and drive fewer Clicks. 

You can check ad status by applying a filter at ad level to see which ads are Disapproved or Eligible (Limited). 

Once you discover the culprits, you can appeal the disapproval or make changes to your ads to make sure that they comply with Google Ads policies so that they start serving again. 

Note that in some cases, due to certain industry regulations, some ads will always need to run as Approved (Limited). 

You can filter for Status at ad level here:

  1. Daily Budget 

Sometimes, your daily budget might be too low to show ads continuously throughout the whole day. 

These will be marked as ‘Limited by Budget’. One way to solve this is to increase the daily budget for these Campaigns, but understandably, this may not always be possible due to your monthly budget. 

As such, you can follow the rest of our checklist to find out ways to optimise your Campaigns without needing to increase the daily budget. 

You can see whether a campaign is Limited by Budget in the Status column of the main Campaign dashboard. 

  1. Locations & Language

Location and language settings could be a cause of poor performance. 

Make sure to check your Campaign settings to see if you are targeting the correct languages. 

Keep in mind that Google targets ads based on query language, user settings, and other language signals. This means that even though users may have their Google browser set to a specific language, Google will know if they can speak another (based on their search history) and will show ads for both.

With respect to geographical locations, selecting the option ‘People in or regularly in your target locations’ will ensure that your ads are only shown to users that are physically located in those locations. 

You may also want to restrict geographical locations so that you only target ads to people who are near your business. 

If your ads aren’t performing well, it’s important to test different location settings. 

If Campaigns have a high spend but a low number of Conversions, you may want to restrict the locations to just those that are performing well. 

In the case of a Campaign with low Impressions, you may want to try expanding geographically. 

  1. Payment Methods

 Sometimes your Campaigns might not be running at all, and it may be something as simple as an issue with your payment method. 

For example, a card payment did not go through, or an invoice was not paid by its deadline. 

You can check the status of your payments in the Billing section under Tools and Settings. 

If a card has expired, or you’ve missed a payment, make sure you rectify this to get your ads running again. 

  1. Negative Keywords 

Negative keywords might prevent your ads showing for key phrases relevant to your business. 

While a Negative keyword in an Exact match type will block your ads showing in searches for that specific keyword, a negative keyword in a Phrase match type will block all searches containing that phrase. 

Be careful in your use of Exact and Phrase match Negative keywords, as incorrectly configured Negative keywords may prevent you from appearing for relevant searches.

You can check your Negative keywords at Campaign/Ad Group level, or in the Negative keyword lists. 

Remember, you will also need to check that the Negative keywords being used have the correct match type. 

  1. Match Types 

This leads us on to the next thing to check, Match Types. 

In many cases, incorrect use of the Broad match type can lead to wasted ad spend. 

Broad match keywords allow your ad to show when someone searches for that keyword or variations of it, as well as other related topics. Using Broad match keywords within your Google Ads campaigns can often make your ads trigger for searches that might be unrelated to your products and services. 

For greater control, we recommend you use Exact and Phrase match keywords.

You should build your ad sets around a keyword theme starting with Exact Match keywords, and then you can choose to add Phrase Match keyword versions if necessary. This way, the Phrase Match keywords will trigger additional keyword combinations. 

For example, if you are selling shoes, you’ll want to divide your Ad Groups into keyword groups based on keyword themes. E.g. trainers, boots, high heels, etc. Every Ad Group will ideally have Exact match keywords such as: [trainers], [boots], [high heels]. 

You could then add Phrase match keywords such as “trainers” and “boots” to enable you to match with additional terms (such as red trainers, snow boots, designer high heels). 

Again, when it comes to Phrase match, you’ll need to be careful to avoid matching with too many additional and perhaps unrelated terms. You should only add phrase keyword versions of specific keywords that you know explicitly relate to your products or services.

Adding Negative Keywords 

Adding keywords is a great way to increase reach and cover more searches. However, some of these searches may not be relevant to your business. 

By adding negative keywords, you can further restrict the searches that trigger your ads and stop any wasted budget. 

Choose Exact match Negative keywords to avoid showing your ads for specific keywords. 

Choose Phrase match Negative keywords if you want to avoid showing your ads for broader phrases that include specific keywords. 

  1. Keywords Below First Page Bid

 If your ads aren’t performing well, then chances are, you may have seen this message (right) when looking at the status of your keywords. Google Ads Checklist If you hover over the red text, you’ll then see a message saying, “It isn't performing well because its bid is too low to show ads on the first page of search results.” If your ads aren’t showing up on the first page of the search results, then chances are that users won’t have seen them or clicked on them. If you are using Manual bidding, you can rectify this by increasing your bids so that they appear on the first page of results. You can do this by looking at the Status of your keywords and then filtering for the keywords 'Below First Page Bid'. You can then raise the bid to match what it needs to be on the first page, or even 'Top of Page' (if you need to maximise visibility for a keyword, and you don’t mind a potential increase in cost for that keyword). This may not always be possible as raising your bids for expensive keywords can exhaust your budget very quickly! In this instance, it may be worth revisiting the keywords that you are using and looking for cheaper alternatives

  1. Quality Score 

Sometimes your ads might not be performing well due to low Quality Scores. A low Quality Score can be caused by problems with: All of these factors may cause your ads to appear in fewer searches and can harm your performance. You’ll need to make sure that you have a solid keyword structure with relevant ads and landing pages, so that when someone searches for a keyword, they find that keyword reflected in both the ad and on the landing page of your website. 

To improve your Quality Score here are some of our top tips:

  • Make your ads more relevant to the keywords that you’re targeting 
    • Match the language used in your ads (headings, descriptions) to the terms you are targeting 
    • Group your keywords (and ads) into themes based on your products or services 
  • Update your landing pages 
    • Ensure the page that the user lands on reflects exactly what they have searched for 
    • Keep a consistent message between your ads and your landing page 
    • Try and improve the loading speeds of your website and ensure that your pages are mobile-friendly 
  • Improve the CTR 
    • Edit and test the text on your ads to make them more engaging 
    • Highlight USPs for your products or services 
    • Experiment with your calls to action until you find those that work
  1. Smart Bidding 

Google’s Smart Bidding can be a powerful tool to help you hit your targets, but in some cases, you may notice that Campaigns using automated bidding are either too expensive, not driving enough results, or both. 

It’s important to note that this will be normal in the first week or so after switching to Smart Bidding, as Google will be recalibrating its machine learning to work towards hitting your targets. 

However, to avoid Smart Bidding leading to instances of wasted spend or low Conversions, be sure to check these points: 

  • The foundation of Smart Bidding lies in correctly implemented Conversion Tracking. Be sure to track only the actions you want to drive on your website or app and import those Conversions to Google Ads. If you import all your goals and events, Google will also use these to inform its optimisation. 
  • You may only want to consider switching to Smart Bidding when the account already has a history of delivering the correct Conversions. At least 30 Conversions is a good starting point for Google’s machine learning to improve performance.

You can check and change your Smart Bidding strategy in the Settings, under Bidding

  1. Conversion Actions 

We've already briefly touched on the necessity of having correct Conversion Tracking in place. 

If you are not receiving figures that are close to your anticipated number of Conversions, it might be a sign of an underlying tracking issue. 

You can detect this in Tools & settings > Conversions. 

If you see ‘No Recent Conversions’ under ‘Tracking Status’, and you have Campaigns that have run in the past week or so, which are using those Conversions, there is likely an issue with your tracking to investigate. 

  1. Ad Copy

Another reason for your Campaigns not driving results could be your ads themselves and the copy used. You can diagnose effectiveness by checking the Ad Strength column at Ad level: 

If the Ad strength is showing as Average or Poor then you’ll want to improve the copy. 

To write compelling ads, make sure you:

  • Use keywords in ad headlines and vary these according to the ad group that the ads are in 
  • Use clear calls-to-action in the ad copy
  1. Other Targeting Methods: Audiences, Placements & Topics 

Audiences (In-Market, Affinity, Remarketing, Custom) is a targeting method that can be used in both Search and Display campaigns. 

Additionally, Display campaigns can also use Topics and Placements. You can use the Targeting setting to restrict ads to people who belong to all audiences at once, or use the Observation setting to target people who belong to any of these audiences. 

For example, you may have launched a Display campaign that targets Female users and an In-market audience of Sports & Fitness. In this scenario, Google will show ads only to users that were identified by Google as both being female and being in-market for Sports & Fitness products. 

With the Observation setting, this restriction is removed.

You can find this choice at Ad group level, under Audiences: Google Ads Checklist However, in some cases, the targeting setting can be the cause of a low number of Impressions and Clicks. 

Consider moving the audiences to Observation to start reporting on different targeting methods without narrowing down the reach of your campaign. 

Conclusion & Checklist

As you have seen, troubleshooting an underperforming Google Ads campaign is not always straightforward. 

However, if you approach the task logically, make changes according to best practice and monitor their effect on your campaigns, you will be able to get your campaigns back on track. 

Below, we've included a checklist for you to follow the next time you experience low campaign performance from your Google Ad campaigns.

Next time you're Google Ads are underperforming, run through the checklist below to get them back on track: 

Still unsure or looking for support? Get your underperforming Google Ads back on track. Leave us a message via the form below, we'd love to help!

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