It’s been ages since we’ve had a Dumbass of the Week, but I saw something yesterday that prompted me to resurrect the title once more.
A staff member here sent me a screengrab from a Google search he had made and pointed out one of the Sponsored Links / AdWords ads at the top of the page (see screen grab below) . He had conducted a search for *cheap glasses new zealand* and Google displayed a range of organic and paid results on the SERP.
Here’s a screengrab of the original search page showing the top 3 sponsored results:
When my colleague clicked on the 3rd Sponsored Link on the page, it took him to a 404 Error Page. Thinking that the URL was simply malformed and he could find what he needed from the home page, he stripped the tracking URL down to the top level domain and refreshed the page. Again, he was taken to a 404 Error Page.
At first I thought perhaps the site was offline temporarily or simply not loading in his browser so I asked him to send me the destination URL from the ad so I could try.
Because I have the Google Toolbar installed, when I tried to view the same broken link, instead of a standard 404 error, I received a Google error page stating: “Oops! This link appears to be broken. Did you mean: www.lessforspecs.co.nz?”
Aha! Mystery solved. The advertiser Less for Specs had accidently used dot com in their destination URL instead of .co.nz. Turns out, the dot com site doesn’t even exist, which is probably for the best as they would have been paying to send traffic to their competitor’s site if it did.
Normally, the AdWords system detects malformed destination URLs and either doesn’t approve the ad or sends you an alert very quickly and pauses the ad for you. However, for whatever reason (perhaps the dot com site did exist at one point), the ad was allowed to go live.
An identical search today doesn’t trigger the same ad, so perhaps the problem is resolved. Maybe Google alerted them of the problem. Perhaps the mistake was made by a 3rd party agency managing the site’s PPC campaign. But who knows how many people clicked on the link and were taken to a 404 error page before it was fixed? Who knows how many dollars the mistake cost the advertiser in click costs in the meantime?
Now, I don’t mean to single out Less For Specs. I’ve seen similar errors in Pay Per Click ads by many companies over the years, heck, I’ve made them myself. But seeing this example reminded me that we should be taking more care with our PPC campaigns in order to get the best value for money out of them.
Here’s a list of common PREVENTABLE errors I’ve seen in PPC ads:
- Malformed destination URLs.
- Incorrect or misleading display URLs.
- Destination URLs leading to a *this page is under construction* placeholder.
- Forgetting to pause a PPC campaign during a scheduled site outage (I have to admit guilt on this one!)
- Moving a domain but forgetting to redirect PPC landing pages.
- Not knowing about an unscheduled site outage for 48 hours.
- Spelling or grammatical errors within ads.
- Sexist, racist or otherwise ignorant ad wording.
Yes, some PPC systems such as AdWords and Microsoft AdCenter have built in checks to prevent dumb user errors, but they’re not bullet proof. Dumbass happens. Just don’t let it happen to you.