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How I Lost Over $1500 in 2 Weeks with Google Adwords Express

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.

Adwords campaign over 14 days.
Our Google Adwords campaign over 14 days.

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:

credit-card-statement

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.

express-statement

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?

adwords-express-improvement

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.

Dave Bryant

Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He's also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.

23 Comments

  1. This is an excellent post. And this is a similiar situation I have experienced. I was trying to find information online about this type of scenario and I was so happy to come across your post & to hear am not the only one who has experienced this.

    I’ve used Google Adwords for years (I am a digital marketer) and spent countless amounts in advertising.
    For most part, I find it a great service and platform and have had success for my business as well as clients.

    However, am not happy at all with Google AdWords Express platform and transparency of account being set up, billing and charges. It may be an oversight as typically Google is very transparent.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. I agree – I think it’s a complete oversight by Google opposed to them trying to do anything malicious. It appears they still haven’t corrected it though.

    2. Hi Rae,
      I´m trying to set up my first Adwords Express campaign and I´m worried of wasting my money. Could you please share what you think is not transparent enough (and, hence, I should pay extra attention to)?
      More specifically, do you think the ROI on such campaigns is satisfaying? and why?

      Thanks a lot!

      1. Hi Mariano,
        This is a huge topic, but pay close attention to your cost per conversion and if you don’t have that set up then it should be the number one thing you do.

  2. I unfortunately just had this exact scenario happen to me. A few days ago I set up a quick “dummy” campaign to test the features with Express. Set it live, not thinking twice about it. I guess I automatically assumed that Express and normal Adwords were connected and that I would see it in my normal Adwords account, again not thinking twice about it. Then today, I went to set up my real campaign in normal Adwords (which is what I know) and went to the billing tab to check thresholds on this account and notice it billed me almost $400 the past few days. Called Google and they explained to me the charges were from “express” – they pointed me there and sure enough, that ad was live and just getting tons of super non-targeted traffic. I’m out $400, but I guess it could be worse, pretty brutal……

    1. Yes it sucks – to Google’s credit they did give me a partial credit (I’ve also seen them trying to make some changes to make it more obvious when you have an Adwords Express campaign running but it’s still buried)

      1. This was an excellent at thank you. In my case I canceled my ad yet it continue to run they continue to charge me every month. I called about a month and I half ago, the person on the phone was so rude and she comes up with me. I have no evidence of my site that those ads actually worked. Very disappointed! I will never do business with Google ads again.

        1. This article was very good. I had to rewrite it because it was full with typos. My ad campaign was to run for two weeks no more than $150. I went back in and canceled the ad campaign. Yet I was charged every month for approximately $147.27. And now they’re saying that I owe them money. Total cost is approximately 700. I did not sign up for that and I actually canceled the ad campaign. I called Google and the person that answered the phone would not help me and hung up on me. What’s going on Google? I am thoroughly disappointed. And was given no assistance to resolve the issue. There’s absolutely no evidence on my website that the add campaign worked.

  3. I had the same problem with this google adwords express. I never wanted to have this campaign created but it did anyway and with a very poor quality. I never get my money back. This makes me wonder if google can cheet me in my face what else is google doing in my back? How to trust in google cpc with all google robots navigating in the internet?

    1. I don’t think they’re trying explicitly cheat anyone per se but it’s definitely a terrible design flaw.

  4. Dear Dave,
    Thank you for your article. I only wish I or someone on our staff had seen it before we lost nearly $5,000.00 on inadvertent and unwanted ads for an event that we were marketing (in this case for ourselves) that ended within a month of the ads being set up. Google Ad Words is very confusing and unlike some of your more charitable commenters, I see the total lack of response by Google as a predatory practice.

    I own a small ad agency called Duke Joseph. Last summer, one of our interns was instructed to run an ad on Ad Words for 250.00 per month for two months. I personally was not even aware that “Ad Words Express” existed. Sadly our intern, a very bright and capable young person was pushed from our Ad Words account into creating an Ad Words Express and just followed the prompts. At the end of the summer, and after the event, she was hired to help promote ended, she went back to school. The ad sadly did not stop running and no-one in our agency was aware of it. Fast forward to this month and an internal audit of our bank account showed us that we were being billed over $500.00 per month for the last six months. $3,000.00 right down the tubes. Getting Google to even talk about this issue with us has been a huge hassle. Two weeks and many phone calls later, we too were offered an $800.00 credit. We dealt with a floor manager at one of Google’s phone centers in India and all follow up was done by us. Promises of callbacks and “escalated investigations” were meaningless. Google clearly knows that this is a problem… but for them, it is a profitable problem to have.

    Google Ad Words express is target sold to small business owners aggressively through incessant robo-calls and third party sales teams. The lack of an end date feature for ads set up on the express platform is clearly a design choice that has made the company millions of dollars of inadvertent spends. The fact that they are aware of it and in my case argued that it was a feature “to make it easier for less tech-savvy people to run ads” is disingenuous at the least and purposefully deceiving at the worst. Does anyone really believe that having to carefully monitor an ad and return to the platform to end it is somehow efficient? I believe that it is a predatory practice similar to the one used by phone companies for decades. It is like billing an old lady 200.00 per year to rent a landline phone set for $15 dollars a month. Sure you can say “Caveat emptor” if you’re a douche but Google is supposed to be our “friend”. So Granny gets bilked thousands over the years for a rental phone that is literally worth $20.00 because she doesn’t know what that “Equipment Rental” charge on her bill is not something she needs. Tech seems to enrich itself on the ignorance of the uninitiated. Whats that Google motto again? “Don’t be evil” Yeah right…

    For large tech companies that sell to the world’s consumers, fooling people can be pure profit. I’m going to go ahead and say that using basic human confusion and targeting small business people around the world for ripping off is pretty shitty. Google knows that this is an issue. They designed “ad Words Express to push people to is and then camouflage it by keeping the look almost exactly the same as the regular ad words. Google apparently even has a set amount they are willing to “Credit” to make the handful of people who see through them go away. $800.00 seems to be the buy off for schmucks like me and you. The fact that the “customer service” division managers act like this is the first time they have ever dealt with this issue and the placation that they are going to take your experience and feedback and make changes is infuriating. Lucky for me there are many choices for where our clients can spend and even more effective ways to build traffic than their ads. I’m going to use their “credit” top do some good for someone and then my ad agency will start to transition away from them completely. No G-Drive, No G-Mail, No Ads. I’m done supporting a company that has clearly outgrown any ethics it once claimed to cherish. Adios Google.

  5. Hi Dave,

    The same thing happened to me. I spent days trying to resolve and Google staff made me feel incompetent and stupid. I asked for clarity on when I supposedly signed up for the Express and the standard reply was “the two services are different…..”. When logging into Adwords I’m staggered that there’s no reference to the express version and that I still had a campaign running on a service I didn’t even know existed.

    No refund (hundreds of GBP’s), just a very bad experience.

  6. Just had the same issue, thankfully not that much money! It has stopped me using Adwords completely and i’m moving to Facebook advertising. Nothing is worse than a company that isn’t transparent. More people would use Adwords if it was easier to see what you are spending

  7. Similar experience here! They charged my credit card over $1000, which my credit card company disputed and returned to my account. Adwords express then suspended my account and every time I call them to discuss the issue, I get sent to someone in the Philippines who says they can only transfer my call to the best department for my issue. Every time they transfer me I am prompted to put in my account number which is followed by a recording telling me my account is suspended and then I am disconnected. Each time I call back and beg to please be able to speak with a person I am told to go online to resolve the issue. When I do, occasionally a week later (during my work hours) I get a call from someone in India. I can’t return their call because I’m not paying international phone charges. What kind of business operates like this!?!? Is there no person in the United States who can help me!???

  8. I’ve encountered the same problem with a lot less charges, but it still hurts, because when I contacted Google they said bluntly that I AM IN WRONG and that I did it! (Although the video was for an ad that has absolutely no connection to me).

    I will never trust Gpay again.

  9. I am an experienced user of Adwords(20+Yrs), and most recently experienced excessive overcharges and what I would call abuses of how Adwords Dynamic Ads operate and display confusing accounting display, and attract nontargeted campaign clicks that wasted Ad funds. I was wondering if there is a class action suit.

  10. Google adwords as a whole is a hokey mess… I had a very similar experience to you with their worthless “Smart Ads” Campaign. Also, the suggestions offered inside of the Google Ads dashboard are total bologna… When I first created my campaign I had a “100% Optimization Score”. Lo and behold, days later as I kept declining google’s solicitation to double my budget, my score got lower and lower and lower. Plus, how in the world can anyone trust the traffic being sent by Google? It’s a bitter sweet thing because my business generates most of our revenue through google ads, but Google is so non-transparent with literally everything it does, I have no way to trust that they are actually doing what they say they are doing…. So frustrating!!!

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