5 Common SEM Mistakes You’re Making Right Now

Digital Marketing, Search Engine Marketing

Written by Rene Carling

January 5, 2024
rogers advertising
Oops - SEM Mistakes
When it comes to Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns, there are a plethora of costly SEM mistakes you can come across.

Because SEM campaigns are paid for on a cost-per-click basis, these mistakes can be extremely costly. The great part is that most of these are very easy to fix.

Want to avoid wasting your marketing money? Check out these common SEM mistakes and subsequently, learn how to fix them.

Why It Matters

Search Engine Marketing can yield great results, but when improperly managed, it can be a complete waste of money.

Many of these SEM mistakes will hurt your overall campaign health, but the MAIN reason why you want to resolve these issues is to ensure your money is going to the right audience and isn’t wasted.

Because Search Engine Marketing (also known as Google Ads, PPC, and Search Advertising) is paid for by how many people click on your ad, if you’re serving your ad to irrelevant users your click is wasted, and so is your dollar.

Remedying these SEM mistakes can help improve your engagement and conversion rates, which will ultimately give you a better return on your investment.

Quote - It’s much easier to double your business by doubling your conversion rate than by doubling your traffic.
Now, Let’s Get To Work!

In no particular order, here are our 5 most common search engine marketing mistakes and how to remedy them.

#1 – Utilizing Broad Match Keywords With No Additional Targeting

To be clear, broad match keywords are not our favorite match type. Phrase Match and Exact Match are preferred due to their higher relevancy and will provide better ad quality.

BUT, if you do have broad match keywords, adding in additional targeting can help reduce wasted spending and improve engagement rates (be it clickthrough rates or conversion rates).

We suggest you make an ad group specifically designed for your broad match keyword(s) so you can monitor it and add targeting to this one specific ad group.

Examples of additional targeting include:

  • Demographic (age, gender, household income, parental status)
  • Detailed Demographics (similar to the above + employment, homeownership status, marital status, and more)
  • In-Market Audience Segmentation (what users are actively researching or planning)
  • Affinity Audience (interests and habits of users)
  • Similar Segments (users that have interacted with your business + those similar to those that have interacted)

*Ensure you’re adding these as “Targeting” and not “Observation”

#2 – No Ad Extensions Included

Ad extensions are a great way to add additional information to your ads. With so much competition in the SEM auctions, it’s important to differentiate your ad from others. The more you add to your campaign, the better.

Here are a few of the more common ad extensions you can add to your Search Engine Marketing campaign:

  • Sitelink
  • Promotion
  • Callout
  • Location
  • Structured Snippet
  • and more!

Consider adding these to your SEM campaign’s ads to help your ad take up more space in the search engine results page and entice potential customers to click your ad!

#3 – Directing Ads To A Contact Page

Your ad’s quality score is based on 3 things – expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience.

Landing page experience is all about how relevant your page is to the user’s search and how useful your page is.

99% of the time, your contact page is not going to be relevant to a user’s search, unless their search is “[Your Business Name] Contact Info”.

It’s better to link your ads to a product or service page within your website because those pages are likely to have more mentions of your product or service than a contact page.

How To Check Your Landing Page Experience Score

  • Sign in to your Google Ads account.
  • In the left menu, select Keywords.
  • In the upper right corner of the table, click the columns icon.
  • Under “Modify columns for keywords” open the Quality Score section. To see the current Quality Score and its component statuses, including Landing Page Exp.
  • To see past Quality Score stats for the reporting period you’re looking at, choose Landing Page Exper. (hist.)
  • Click Apply

#4 – Lack Of Negative Keywords In Search Engine Marketing Campaigns

A negative keyword is a targeting option available by most search engine marketing platforms, including GoogleAds and Microsoft Advertising (Bing/Yahoo). Negative keywords allow you to filter out irrelevant searches to save you money.

One of the biggest SEM mistakes we see are campaigns with too few negative keywords. While there isn’t an ideal number of negative keywords you should include in your Search Marketing campaigns, you should have a minimum of 50-100 negative keywords.

Advantages of Negative Keywords

  • Increased Clickthrough Rates – when your ad is more relevant to what someone is searching for, you’ll likely receive more clicks.
  • Increased Conversion Rates – if your ad is relevant to the consumer, your website and products/services should be too
  • Improved Quality Score – Google and other Search Engine Marketing platforms want the customer experience to be the best it can be. If your ads are relevant to the conducted search, your campaign is likely to be deemed of quality. Higher quality score, means you pay less in the bidding auction.

Negative Keyword Hygiene Habits

Here are some general campaign hygiene tips when it comes to adding negative keywords:

  • Be Proactive – determine what are some negative keywords you might add BEFORE you launch a Search Engine Marketing campaign.
  • When You Launch – within the first 3-4 days of a campaign launching, you should review your Search Terms report and add any negative keywords you find.
  • Ongoing – on a weekly basis, take a look at your Search Terms and add additional negative keywords. With nearly 15% of all searches each day being new, never before conducted, there will always be new keywords to add, so keep up the good hygiene.

Negative Keyword Lists To Include

By creating lists of negative keywords, you can easily add them to multiple campaigns and have them set to automatically add to new campaigns. Here are some examples of lists you can add to your Search Engine Marketing campaigns.

  • Job Seekers
  • Research
  • Price & Quotes
  • Legal

Check out this free list of 400+ Negative Keywords and avoid this SEM Mistake!

#5 – Not Utilizing Call Tracking and Recording To Analyze Call Quality

In order to properly evaluate your Search Engine Marketing campaign, you need to know how many customers are coming through your campaign. This can be easily done if you’re an e-commerce business and utilizing Google Analytics to track checkouts and total revenue. But what if you’re a service-based business and most people call to set up an appointment? That’s where call tracking comes in!

Call tracking is the ability to determine what campaign, ad group, and keyword a consumer came through in order to ultimately call your business. It is the ability to follow a consumer’s path to your business and it is essential to determining the yield your campaign is having to your bottom line.

Call listening, however, is the ability to actually listen to the customer’s call. You’ve heard it before – “This call may be recorded for quality assurance.” Well, this is call quality assurance! Call listening allows you to hear what additional keywords might need to be added, if there is a more streamlined way of converting your customer, and if there are any hiccups.

Learn more about call tracking numbers, their purpose, and affordability in our blog!

Call Tracking Numbers – Purpose & Affordability

By adding call tracking numbers to your campaign, you’re able to track the length of calls, who they are from, jot down notes about the calls, and much more!


We hope that these 5 SEM mistakes to avoid will help you and your future campaigns deliver the best results possible. Remember, Search Engine Marketing campaigns are never a set-it-and-forget-it campaign and require massaging from beginning to end.

If you are in need of a second set of eyes on your campaign, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to help!

Headshot of Rene Carling
Rene Carling

Rene Carling, Director of Digital Marketing, has managed numerous integrated marketing campaigns, including Search Engine Marketing, Video, Display, and much more. She is also Google AdWords Certified, which gives her a thorough understanding of Search Engine Marketing campaigns.

About Rene Carling

Rene Carling, Director of Digital Marketing, has managed numerous integrated marketing campaigns, including Search Engine Marketing, Video, Display, and much more. She is also Google AdWords Certified, which gives her a thorough understanding of Search Engine Marketing campaigns.

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