Updated August 12, 2019

killer adwords clutterEverybody loves living in a clean, well-organized house. But you rarely meet anyone who really likes the process of regularly cleaning their homes.

We all know about those tasks you always put off as long as possible—organizing the garage, deep-cleaning the kitchen, decluttering the attic, etc.

But sooner or later, those “spring cleaning” tasks have to get done or your home—and quality of living—start to deteriorate.

Your AdWords account is much the same way. Problems that might seem insignificant on a week to week view can accumulate over months and years to cause startling problems for your paid search account.

And just like your spring cleaning—the longer you put off these AdWords tasks, the worse it’s going to get.

So as the weather starts to warm and you get out those dust rags and brooms, it’s time to mentally commit to giving your AdWords account the same attention. Don’t worry – we’ll help you figure out how.

But first, the obvious question—why bother? What will be your return on investment for the time spent deep-cleaning your AdWords account? Well, here’s what will happen if you don’t:

Lack of Efficiency

The biggest problem with a cluttered AdWords account is an overall decrease in efficiency. AdWords clutter reduces visibility into your account in a number of ways.

One simple way is by slowing the time it takes for you to run critical reports. Believe it or not, this happens, and can even lead some account managers to skip running these reports altogether (never a good idea)!

Another, more critical problem, is that it makes for an inefficient structure that increases the complication—and likelihood of error—in processes like bidding, creating ads, and avoiding duplicate ads (ie, competing against yourself in the ad auction).

The more you can prune your AdWords structure for things like non-converting keywords, loser ads, duplicate keywords, and overreaching campaigns or ad groups, the easier account management will become.

Missed Opportunities

Another problem clutter can cause is missed opportunities. Again, when visibility into your account is reduced, it hampers your ability to make the most of your ad spend. Certain settings can present a big problem for most retailers, if not checked and optimized. These settings can harm both your traffic and conversions, but tend to damage your conversion rate more than your traffic, since Google’s default settings naturally promote clicks.

Wasted Spend

But most importantly, AdWords clutter too often leads to “death by a thousand cuts” as money wasters like duplicate keywords, bad URLs, and non-converting keywords inevitably accumulate over time. While a couple dollars a week per keyword may not seem too bad, we’ve seen “small” problems like these waste tens of thousands of dollars for some retailers.

If you want to avoid joining that wall of shame, here are 4 key areas you need to set aside time for this month—and what you need to do to clean up each one.

#1. Sorting and Sweeping Negative Keywords

We freely admit that it’s a challenge to keep on top of negative keywords. Especially when you start bidding on more general terms, you’ll find yourself matching on a lot of irrelevant queries. It’s essential to take the time to really dig into the Search Terms Report to find where you’re losing money on keywords that aren’t relevant to your ads.

Matching ads on irrelevant search terms costs your account in two ways. The obvious cost is that, when showing on an irrelevant search query, you run a high risk of unqualified traffic and stray clicks. (Basically, clicks that have no intention of converting.) You may also inadvertently invite clicks from customers who are interested in what you’re selling generally, but not specifically.

For example, if you (like our example retailer in the screenshot below) sold tennis gear and clothing but not dresses, your ads might easily show to shoppers looking for something you can’t sell them. They’ll give you a click, find you don’t have what they need, and leave—and you’re out $0.60. That may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised at how quickly it adds up.


negative keyword screenshot

The less obvious cost is this: your click through rate is a major factor in Google’s quality score calculations. If your ad is showing up for a lot of irrelevant searches, your CTR declines as your ad garners impressions (people seeing your ads) without getting clicks. Fortunately, this doesn’t become an issue with one or two stray searches, but if you’re consistently showing for irrelevant search queries, it will become a bigger issue for you over time.

Negative keywords really help you cut out a lot of that waste by giving Google’s algorithm more precise information about your ads, which means better targeting for your ads.

Implementing Negative Keywords

One of the things our analysts do personally when going through an account’s search terms report (where you find what searches your ads have been matching) is to sort by both impressions and cost. Start off by finding which search queries (for a specific keyword) are driving the most spend in the account. Then, out of those in the top bracket, look to see if there are any that are really irrelevant to your product and what you’re trying to actually sell.

Starting with the big spenders first will help you make the most impact on your account in the least amount of time (since we know you haven’t got days to spend sifting through every single search query).

Alternatively, it also helps to take a look at what is generating a lot of impressions and search for irrelevant searches there. You want to zero in on those queries that are generating a lot of impressions without a lot of clicks, to avoid having your quality score dinged by Google.

When Negative Keywords Hinder Growth

A word of caution before leaving the subject, however. Like any tool in AdWords, negative keywords can be used unwisely and to excess. If you’ve inherited management of an AdWords account, it’s important to look into existing negative keyword lists and understand why negative keywords were put into place, but it’s also important to understand when it might be time to strategically remove some negatives.

When we bring on new accounts, we often see negative keywords that are completely blocking some positive keywords. So it’s important, as part of your spring cleaning, to take a look at negative keywords already in place—and not just hunt for new ones.

Analyze your negatives and the targeted keywords they’re affecting. Look especially for negatives that will shut down traffic on good keywords. You’d be surprised at how often major oversights can happen.

The main takeaway with negative keywords is to get in there to your search query report and your negative keywords list and do the dirty work of dusting out those bad boys. It may seem insignificant, but just tackling this chore alone can save you a surprising amount of money.

#2. Taking Out the AdWords Trash

Next on our chore list is taking out the trash. If you thought you’d escaped this chore by working a marketing job, think again. Like the empty pizza boxes that pile up in a bachelor pad until they hit critical mass, unobtrusive items in AdWords like paused ads or keywords with no impressions can seem harmless—until the day you can’t see the floor any more.

If you’ve never made a big sweep through your account, removing keywords and ads with no impressions, or tossing those ads you paused forever ago—it’s time, my friend. And even if you have made a trash run at some point in the past, if it’s been more than a couple months since you last took out the garbage, it’s probably time to do it again.

You will be amazed at how much this will speed up your AdWords interface and reporting. It may seem like a small benefit, but think of it this way: have you ever tried to pull a keyword report for all keywords (a common enough necessity)? For most accounts, this is several thousand keywords. But if only a thousand or so of those keywords are actually getting traffic, they’re the only ones you’re actually going to get any insight from. Thing is, Google doesn’t know this, and will deliver you a massive report to wade through.

The same goes for ads that are long paused, or garnering no impressions. All this does is make it harder for you to pull and process the data and make decisions, because the account is cluttered. It will also cause the AdWords interface to run slower, and when you try to segment data, you can actually run into a data cap that limits the number of rows you can download in a report.

And these issues aside, we’ve found that a streamlined account just makes for a better, more efficient management workflow—one that gives you the ability to react and make changes lot more quickly. You don’t need me telling you how important that is in a world as fast-paced as paid search advertising.

#3. Trouble with Ads

Your ads tab is another place AdWords clutter likes to accumulate. Your top targets as you go on this account cleaning frenzy should be ads that have never generated any traffic. At this point, they’re just sitting there, clogging your account.

Sort ads by impressions, and scrap the ones that have zero impressions. Luckily, Google’s going to start helping with the chores a bit by removing ads that have received no impressions after 100 days. They’re also going to start permanently deleting any ads that have been sitting in the “removed” pile. So this isn’t as high on the priority list, but is still something to watch.

Destination URLs

Something more important you need on your radar is destination URLs. These can really sneak up on you, especially if you don’t update your ads regularly. It’s important to run a report on all your destination URLs, and make sure that your landing pages are still correct.

People update their websites all the time, and sometimes the webmaster doesn’t communicate this to Marketing. A lot of times you’ll find that pages that once existed don’t even exist anymore, which causes a big problem when your ad sends a paid click to a 404 page.

Site changes can also cause landing pages to redirect, which can cause all sorts of problems from a tracking perspective.

Here are the steps you’ll want to take with your destination URL report:

This may seem like a bit of a pain, but it’s well worth the investment.

Disapproved Ads

Disapproved ads are something else to keep tabs on. A lot of times when ads are disapproved, you’ll get a notification in your AdWords interface. But on any given day you could have five to ten dashboard notifications at once, many of which aren’t actually urgent. So a lot of us can become blind to those notifications.

But disapproved ads shouldn’t go unnoticed. Especially if the ad is for a top-performing keyword, you can miss out on a lot of traffic by overlooking ad disapprovals. It’s worth your time to go into the ads tab and filter for ads with a status of “Disapproved.” Run through these ads and see which ads you can easily change.

Sometimes these disapprovals will be for something as simple as accidentally using two exclamation points in the description line. Ads can also get disapproved if their URLs aren’t working. This is something you can do pretty quickly, but it will make a difference for your account—especially if you haven’t checked in a while.

#4. Settings

There’s a lot that could be said on the topics of settings in AdWords (we wrote a whole report on it!), but today we’ll only be looking at two quick-fix, big-opportunity settings you can clean up today. The goal here is to make sure your settings aren’t unnecessarily limiting you, which we see happen a lot.

One thing we see a lot of in new accounts are restrictive delivery settings for specific campaigns.  If you have a top-performing campaign with a delivery setting of “standard” (as opposed to “accelerated”), Google is going to try to serve ads evenly throughout the day (based on your history) to meet your campaign budget by the end of the day. With an accelerated setting, Google instead shows the ads for that campaign as often as possible until the campaign hits budget.

The sweet spot is an accelerated delivery setting with a campaign budget that’s high enough so that your ads will never be cut off. This way, you can show your ads as often as possible throughout the day. This is a huge area of opportunity, and all it requires is changing one little setting.

The second setting that’s important to look at is your ad rotation settings. In instances where you’re split testing ads and want an even A/B test, you’ll want the rotation settings to be “rotate indefinitely,” which tells Google to show your ads at an even 50/50 split. But if you’re not split testing, you want that ad rotation setting to be put at “optimize for conversions.” This gives Google permission to use account history to show an ad based on its likelihood to convert for a specific query.

So there you have it. Sure these chores are anything but glamorous, but we tried to pick chores that have the biggest potential yield for the time you spend doing them. Make it a point to run through these chores on a regular basis (we recommend a couple times every year), and your account will run a lot more smoothly and profitably.

If you want to learn a few more similar chores you can run (and some more advanced tips on these four topics), be sure to download our special Guide to Decluttering AdWords.