My company uses Google Adwords prolifically, well into the 5 digits each year. While it's not as profitable as it once was, it's still a profitable way to drive traffic to our imported and private label products we sell direct through our website.
Our Adwords traffic is driven primarily to two different websites and split relatively evenly between the two. To get better granularity and expense tracking, I decided to move one of the sites to its own separate Adwords account.
I opened up a new Adwords account, transferred all the ads over, and each day I logged into our account. We were spending just a few dollars per day and I was trying to find ways to spend more money.
Unfortunately, I don't check my credit card statements nearly as often as our Adwords account. And here was my horror when I did check my statement after 2 weeks:
In 2 weeks, Google had charged $1586.64 (there's approximately $400 not shown on the above statement). How?! My Adwords account was showing not even $15 in that two weeks. I urgently called Google, expecting the conversation to end somewhere along the lines of “I'm sorry Mr. Bryant for the error, we'll have this money credited back to your account immediately”.
Instead it ended along the lines of “Oh, you have a Google Adwords Express ad running.”
I had never even heard of Google Adwords express!
Apparently, somewhere along the way of signing up for a new Adwords account I had inadvertently signed up for a Google Adwords express account (I have my theories on how, which I'll save for the Google rep).
A Google Adwords Express account is apparently a very basic version of Adwords that someone can setup if they don't want to go through the work of managing a full fledged Adwords account. Essentially you enter your company name, the area you want to target, and a pre-selected list of products or services you want to target. It's meant largely for a single service or single product business. You do not create multiple ads or bid on keywords like you do for a normal Adwords account. Instead you tell Google the name of your company, describe what it does, and set a budget (I had set a budget of $100 per day which I knew could never be met by a normal Adwords campaign). In short, it's a terrible solution for any multiproduct ecommerce store owner.
I had created a dummy ad in Adwords Express (which I thought was simply Adwords) and Google was hell bent on trying to find some way to spend my $100 per day. You can see from my campaign screen shot above, we couldn't even spend $15 in 2 weeks over nearly a dozen products, yet Google Adwords Express found a way to spend over 100x that on one product (don't ask me how).
My Recommendations for Importers and for Google
My recommendations for importers and anyone who sells more than one product or service is simple- never everrrr use Google Adwords Express. Simple. And be very careful when signing up for an Adwords account to know which type of account you're signing up for. Adwords is an extremely powerful platform and managing your own PPC (Pay Per Click) campaigns is an important skill to have.
For Google, I would love to criticize the value of the Adwords Express account overall. We spent $1500 on traffic which, for lack of better words, was complete garbage (I can see this as I look at the traffic stats retroactively). I have no doubt if I set a budget of $1000/day they would have found a way to send even more useless traffic. However, from searching Google (the irony, I know) I can see some businesses actually have real success with it.
Instead, my most serious issue has to do with the fact there is absolutely no way to have any knowledge of an Adwords Express (notice the operative word underlined there) account from within your Adwords account. In fact, you cannot access it without manually typing in adwords.google.com/express. From within my Adwords dashboard I can see every campaign I am running, including search network campaigns, display network campaigns, YouTube Campaigns- you name it, it's there. There is no way any Adwords user could ever have any knowledge of an inadvertent Adwords Express campaign running. I'm not the first person to make this mistake. What happens if the next person types in $1000 as a budget per day and waits to receive their monthly credit card statement 30 days later?
After speaking with a customer service rep they also indicated that customers setting up accounts, forgetting about them, and never logging in after creation does occur. This is likely even a bigger issue with Adwords Express accounts, which by their nature can be setup extremely quickly. Google should at the very least send email reminders and ideally pause campaigns once a certain billing threshold is reached in an inactive account (it's possible these mechanisms are in place and I simply did not meet the thresholds).
Google, to their credit credit, is normally fairly transparent in their charges and billing and I believe the above weaknesses are simply an oversight in the Adwords UI.
Conclusion (and Update)
After speaking with an Adwords customer service rep they let me know that they were escalating the case to a superior to see if a credit for future advertising can be issued, which I'll follow up on with an update later.
After speaking with an Adwords customer service rep on a Friday and explaining my conundrum, she escalated the case to a superior. On Monday I received an email from her superior, Nick, offering an $800 credit. I ended up speaking to him on the phone explaining my predicament. He was sympathetic and he genuinely sounded like he wanted to give more of a refund but only had authority up to 50%. I'm not sure how much of that was true or not, but the fact they offered this refund without too much haggling, I didn't complain too much and accepted the $800. Many companies would have simply said “too bad, you opened the account” or forced me to get in a back and forth between various departments over several weeks.
Ultimately, I'm out $700 on traffic which ultimately did not convert at all. But who knows- maybe those 500 people who visited the site over that 2 weeks will one day come back and purchase from us. There's a popular quote in advertising “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”. For better or worse, I knew exactly where my money was wasted in this situation!
Have you had similar experiences of lost or wasted money on internet marketing? If so, please share and comment below.