Advertising Mistakes – How Your Paid Search Is Hurting You

April 16, 2008 at 5:35 am | Posted in Advertising, Communication, Marketing, Online marketing, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments
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Most business owners have heard about Google or Yahoo ads and many are participating in these programs. These solutions allow your specific ads to reach your target audience at minimal cost.

So what’s the down-side? Can paid search actually hurt you and your brand?

The answer is a resounding yes. Done right, paid search advertising is one of the easiest ways to increase knowledge of your product or brand. But done poorly, it can cause your marketing budget to hemorrhage and turn your customers against you.

There are two ways that your paid search could be detrimentally effecting your brand.

Being Where You Shouldn’t Be

Online search advertising works because you decide what words are going to cause your ad to appear. If you are a high-end coffee seller, you would not only bid on the word “coffee,” but also “Kona” and “Jamaican Blue Mountain.” You want to select any relevant word that would lead the right kind of customers to your product.

But most retailers don’t use a fairly common feature of search engines that allows you to skip mistaken or misleading search terms.

The image to the right shows a recent page I was visiting on Occam’s Razor – the philosophy that every problem can be solved by slicing it down to its simplest incarnation. So imagine my surprise when I saw a Norelco ad in the right column – not the razor I was looking for!

Similarly, the author of the PrettyLittleGirls blog tells how a recent NPR story on African-Americans women with eating disorders featured a Weight Watchers ad directly beside the story. This is a prime example of how an innocuous advertiser damages their reputation. Don’t be where you shouldn’t be.

Not Being Where You Should Be

Likewise, you miss out on prime opportunities when your ads aren’t where they can do the most good. And if you don’t think like customers, potential customers, or detractors, your paid search will languish.

When Naomi Campbell danced with lizards in a Super Bowl ad to the Thriller music, Sobe Water expected people to remember their brand name. They didn’t bid on words like “dancing lizards” even though that’s what customers would remember when they visited Google the day after the game.

If you think potential customers always spell your company’s name correctly, you are sorely mistaken. Are you bidding on misspellings or are you letting all of those customers slip through your fingers?

Finally, not everyone is going to love your company (yet). Your best option is to confront this head-on. Bid on phrases like “[your company] sucks” and you can begin converting people from complainers to customers. Don’t believe me? Search for any company’s name with “sucks” after it. Do you see any company ads seeking to change minds? That is a missed opportunity.

The Gist

Don’t waste your money by advertising in stupid places. And don’t miss out on opportunities because you didn’t think like your audience. It sounds simple, but many companies make these same mistakes every day.



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  1. A good feature of Google AdWords is ‘negative keywords.’ This allows you to screen out words that are commonly associated with your keywords but have no relevance. AdWords even does the research for you. You simply pick the ones you want to exclude from the bigger list they compile. Easy, useful tool that helps you avoid the problems described above.

  2. You make some very good points. The impact of badly placed contextual advertising is especially important for sensitive brand audiences, like anything having to do with healthcare. No one is really going to be that upset over seeing a razor add; although it doesn’t make the company look very smart. Seeing the weight watchers add as you described or advertising for Cialis next to an article about Eliot Spitzer (from a few weeks ago) begins to look like commentary.

  3. I think referring to misplaced contextual ads as “Search Marketing” is a bit disingenuous. As a long-time search marketer, it is vital to make the distinction – besides the fact they are run by Search companies, they are very different animals.

    Your other points were spot on.

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