Google’s products always amaze me. No matter how well I think I understand how the AdWords program works, there are yet more ways to discover information and features I didn’t know existed because I just hadn’t gotten to them yet. Necessity is the mother of invention and the need to explain data is the mother of discovering new things about AdWords.
In a number of the AdWords accounts I manage I have noticed that there area growing number of what folks call “phantom clicks” showing up in the “Total Search” line at the bottom of the keywords display screen within an AdGroup. In some cases, the amount of money being spent on these phantom clicks is substantial.
I did a search in Google for “keyword clicks in AdWords do not match total search clicks” and I came across an article that solved my problem. I also saw a goodly number of other forums where the same general question was being asked, so I thought I would take time to post a couple of solutions.
The first place to look is how you have your campaign set up with regard to keyword variants.
Google has changed the way the campaign settings work with regard to the search network features and keyword matching and they have recently changed the way that “phrase” and [exact] matching works. Phrase and exact matches can now be set to include plurals, variants (-ed, -ing, -tion, etc.) and even closely related words (for example, if you had an AdGroup targeting terms relating to “baseball caps”, your ad might also match for hats, fascinators, and such. Depending on the management strategy you aare using, this could be a good thing for your account, but for me, I don’t like it.
In the campaign settings area, under “General”, choose the “type” to be “Search Network Only – All Features”. Then scroll all the way down and under “Advanced settings”, open up “Keyword matching options” and choose “Do not include close variants”.
Essentially what this does is tells Google you want “phrase” and [exact] matching to work the way they traditionally did, which means that your ads will only be displayed when they match those words, in that order, respectfully. For me, this means a lot less time having to research negative keywords and I have observed that it keeps budget spend more steady and predictable.
The second place to look (the one that gave me the big “A-Ha! Gotcha!”) has to do with using AdWords Extensions, particularly the “Product Listings” extension. My clients, like most companies I think, participate in Google’s Merchant Feeds. They export all of their product data, in one big file, and feed it to Google for product display listings. If your client uploads one big, massive product file, and you set up this product file in product extensions and link it to your campaign, then essentially people can search for every product even though your specific campaign focuses on one product group. Let me give you an example.
One of my clients sells drought tolerant perennials. They have Salvia, Agastache, Gaillardia, Penstemon, Delosperma, Achillea, Echinacea, Lavender, and lots of other lovely things. I have campaigns set up around each one of these so that my AdGroups may then focus on species variations and specific cultivars that are popular. They participate in Google’s Merchant Feed and yep, you guessed it, all their products are dumped into one big file. I set up the product listings ad extension on Lavender and within a few days, i saw those phantom clicks start piling up (and it was costing a pretty penny and not converting…) I saw keywords like “yucca” and “buffalo grass” and “christmas cactus” showing up – in my Lavender campaign! I was scratching my head wondering where these were coming from. My campaign had none of these keywords in it and I was not using any broad matches and the variants option was turned off.
I learned today that it is the product listings ad extension that is doing this, because regardless of how I have my campaigns set up, the merchant fee product file does have all these products in it, and if people are searching for those things, my Lavender campaign (and every other campaign I attached the product listing feed to) could show up because it was matching on the product listings. A-Ha!
So, there are two ways to deal with this…
1. Ask the company you are managing PPC for to break out their product file into related groups. Most company database systems store the category level of their products. Instead of dumping one massive file to Google Merchant, break that file into smaller, more targeted pieces, then attach the smaller and more appropriately targeted product feed to the campaign it relates to. This will cut down on the number of clicks for products that are not related to your campaign. This take a little bit more work intially, but clearly it would be worth doing – it’ll save them lots of money and their ROI will increase.
2. The other thing you can do, and probably should do because #1 is not likely to be a 100% solution, is to go see what terms are being matched on with the product listings – and then exclude them at the camapign level (assuming your campaign is tightly focused around a single product group – otherwise, you’d probably have to exclude these terms over and over again at the AdGroup level).
Choose the AdGroup for which you are seeing a lot of phantom clicks. Click on the “Dimensions” tab and just under the row of light green tabs, on the left, click the little down-arrow and choose to view “search terms”. And Aoila! Those clicks are no longer phantom! Here is where you can see where all the clicks are coming from. Jot down all the words or phrases that do NOT apply to your AdGroup and then add them to your negative keyword lists at the AdGroup or Campaign level as is appropriate. This will eliminate these phantom clicks and get things back under control.
I hope this helps someone. If you find this posting and it did help, please post a comment and let me know. Thanks! And Happy Phantom Keyword hunting!