Mispositioned Paid Search Ads: Silly or Subtle?

I typed in “worldcup” in Google, hit the search button, and got what I was looking for: a quick snapshot of the most recent scores, as well as the starting times of the upcoming matches.

Then I also glanced over the paid search results and saw one that was completely out of context:

Geotargeted but mispositioned PPC ad

So, they are bidding for a highly popular keyword (this post is being written during FIFA’s World Cup 2010), geo-targeting to serve the ad just to the geographical area of their interest (the Washington DC metro area), and also paying good money to rank fairly high on the list of other auctions for the same keyword.

“What a waste of money!” was my first reaction, and I tweeted about it too.

Every paid search marketer knows that mispositioned PPC ads are a waste of money. Back 7 years ago a ClickZ author advised:

Eliminate “Mispositioned” Ads

When compiling your client’s keyword list, the objective is to ensure all terms are highly relevant to the advertiser’s site and business. It’s also essential to remove all possibility your ads will appear in association with unrelated keywords or term groupings.

Sinéad Cochrane of RedFly Marketing, an Ireland-based SEM company, also advises: “Eliminate mispositioned ads. Redefine your target niche if necessary, and use more productive keywords.”

On the surface, it looks like the advertiser highlighted above is wasting their money by doing only half of their homework (geo-targeting), but absolutely forgetting about the importance of “eliminating mispositioned ads” and bidding on terms “highly relevant to [their] site and business.” But only on the surface!

As I thought more of this, it occurred to me that their approach may be:

a) I’ll get an enormous brand exposure (which won’t cost me a penny unless there’s a click)
b) Only those who are interested in charter buses and limos will click through (and I’m happy to pay for the real leads)

Is this then the new form of branding/advertising, but with significantly more precise targeting attached to it?

The approach may not be as silly as I first thought, after all.

8 thoughts on “Mispositioned Paid Search Ads: Silly or Subtle?”

  1. To me, this is very similar to bidding on misspelled keywords and “product tie-ins.” Who says I don’t need a taxi/limo to get me to the pub to watch my World Cup game? I feel this is just smart online marketing.

    Just like when I go to Target or Wal-Mart — I may not be shopping for product X, but because they put it next to product Y, I buy it.

  2. Thanks for your take on this, Tim. While I’m not certain how close this is to product tie-ins (your example may work well in areas with less developed public transportation that DC, but I’m not sure this is what they’re hoping), I agree that this may be pretty smart. They are getting the brand exposure, but aren’t paying for anything but clicks.

  3. Interesting post – Yup, I’m with the branding exercise BUT… (and correct me if I’m wrong) If the ad is not generating any clicks at the same time taking up inventory space in the search results (AKA Google aint making the cash) then the ad would soon drop out of sight no matter how much cash you throw at it?

  4. Great article Geno and well spotted.

    Unfortunately, especially with AdWords, the possible approaches this advertiser is taking are both flawed. Massive brand exposure might work temporarily but has a disproportionate downside. The reduction in CTR (which is inevitable in this case) will reduce their quality score and will end up paying more for clicks, even on more targeted searches.

    This is quite common with new advertisers and from my work on the official AdWords help forum, this can even result in advertisers completely destroying their accounts and having to start fresh.

    So to conclude, this is actually as silly as you first thought, in fact, a lot sillier. If they were to get creative and make it relevant (think “Get a limo to the sports bar to watch the match” type ads), that’s a different story.

  5. @Matt: Thanks for chiming in. Yes, you’re right, and I was waiting for someone to mention that! If the above-quoted two points are what they’re hoping for, it’s an extremely short-sighted strategy.

    @Dave: Thank you for your input, my friend. And guess what? I don’t see that ad up any longer. It must’ve gone down due to the nil or near-nil clickthrough rate.

    I didn’t know that low CTR on some ads affects an advertiser’s overall quality score in such a way that their price per click for “more targeted searches” goes up. Interesting.

    Again, thanks for your comments, gentlemen.

  6. Geno, did you try to see if this ad appeared consistently or if it was just a one-time anomaly? I looked at the ads at http://www.google.com/search?q=worldcup&adtest=on&gl=US&gm=511&gr=US-VA&gcs=Alexandria at a few times throughout the day, and I didn’t see any limo ads. Maybe the advertiser realized the mistake or maybe the CTR was so low that the minimum bid skyrocketed or maybe they exceeded the monthly budget or maybe something else. Hard to tell.

    But besides advertiser naivete, there could be other reasons for the ad appearing. For example, Google sometimes shows ads related to previous searches instead of the current search. There’s better explanation with more examples at http://www.seoptimise.com/blog/2009/04/how-search-history-influences-google-adwords.html

    And Google often runs other little tests with their ad system that most people don’t notice. So these kinds of ads are not always a blatant mistake by the advertiser.

    On the other hand, sometimes it absolutely is because of the advertiser’s lack of knowledge. Maybe you should contact the business and get their side of the story. 🙂

  7. Rehan, I was wondering if you’d chime in. Thanks for doing so!

    Yes, I saw it appear consistently in the course of about two hours preceding my decision to put together a post on it.

    Didn’t know about Google showing ads related to previous searches in AdWords units too. Interesting, but not explaining much in my case (I did no searches for anything related to limos or charter buses). Good info to know anyway.

    Re Google running “other little tests” – now this is really interesting. Got any more info on this? A link or two on the subject would make a very interesting bedtime reading for me.

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