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How Breasts Ruined Our Google AdWords Campaign

Image courtesy of ( David Castillo Dominici) /

Beware the Google AdWords team. If you don’t know how to set up your Google AdWords campaign, you are likely in for an expensive journey through plenty of unnecessary clicks at exorbitant costs.

I learned this the hard way even though I had gained a lot of previous experience using AdWords with pretty impressive results. What I did not have experience with was setting up a display ad campaign. One of my clients, a plastic surgeon, was having a free seminar for which his staff advised him of where he should be advertising. Based on nothing beyond their personal preferences which emphasized using online strategies, he followed their advice by committing a fixed budget to advertise on Facebook ($300), running a display ad in a popular monthly local glossy print magazine ($1,200), and using the campaign I suggested on Google AdWords ($1,500).

I had proposed using AdWords as a way to attract interested candidates using advanced online algorithms. I explained to him how my other clients get many worthwhile clicks and lots of business. So he enthusiastically agreed to try it. After developing a very attractive display ad and submitting it to my ad rep at Google, I allowed him to set up the entire campaign thinking it would be outstanding. I was told that in 10 days they would measure its results and optimize the campaign to perform more efficiently. What they failed to realize was that we didn’t have the luxury of 10 days to waste my client’s money.

Uh, Oh! Trouble Ahead!

Immediately, once the campaign started, it used up the whole day’s budget in 20 minutes’ time for which we got lots of expensive clicks but no sign-ups. My rep’s first reaction was that our meagre budget was limiting the campaign’s effectiveness and we needed to increase the daily total. When I conveyed this idea to the client, he was completely convinced we should add to the budget. However, I was not so sure and told him why. After investigating, I realized that the keywords they had used to represent this campaign probably were attracting the wrong element: voyeurs who were expecting to see pornographic-style photos of women with breast lifts, implants and other similar topics.

After “pausing” the campaign (turning it off), I embarked on an educational journey through keyword control and management that still failed to deter another 20-minute wasted episode on a following day. However, I learned that I could control what websites my ads would be appearing on which was originally set to “auto,” and included a full range of sites meant for the masses but not necessarily the types of more discerning respondents we sought.

Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

Most importantly, I learned that if the campaign had been set up to include “search and display,” I could capture the interest of candidates using Google Search instead of just those perusing a selection of celebrity gossip and sensationalistic websites where they may see our ads during their decadent moments of self-indulgence. To accommodate use of the Search strategy, I added text ads to our campaign because display ads would not be appearing in search results.

I also limited the income level of the marketing regions we were targeting since plastic surgery requires a hefty personal net worth usually without the assistance of health insurance. Although it had occurred to me that we should eliminate men from this effort, there really is no way to be sure who is being reached because many users do not submit a user profile and a home’s Internet access could include an entire family, not just our prime target of women. Besides, men could also benefit from plastic surgery procedures and assuming men to be the culprits of the excessive unprofitable clicks was by no means a fair conclusion. (Could have been teenagers, for all we know!)

When I enabled the campaign (turned it on), I saw a much-improved rate of return and after a week of exposure which was our time-frame remaining prior to our deadline, we actually got (gasp!) one commitment. The client was looking for a minimum of 50. And as it turned out, the one commitment which was for three attendees, never showed up at the event. My client was not happy, nor was I.

Plenty of Excuses to Blame the Client

One of the issues the Google rep mentioned to me was that the client’s website was not mobile-friendly and 72 percent of viewers who had clicked had done so from their mobile devices. My client is a very stubborn man and has resisted developing a mobile site because he insists on micromanaging every component of his business, which includes the content of his website…not to mention being a serious advocate of not “wasting money.” In addition, in my 10 years of working with him, he has never once had a spare minute available to devote to such things. However, he indicated that both he and his wife were able to see his website on their rather hefty Smartphones which contradicted what the AdWords rep had said. So when I tweaked his AdWords targeting, I removed only the smallest mobile devices so those users would not waste our click budget. This was another reason he expressed distrust of the Google reps’ claims. As did I.

Still, he was very secretive about sharing what kinds of results he had gotten from his other modes of marketing. But I venture to guess that he got a similar return from his Facebook advertising as well as his print campaign. I say this from experience with other campaigns both for him and other clients I represent. When I asked how many people attended his event, he admitted that it had attracted 10 people, most of whom were already his patients.

In any case, I recommended that he not use Google AdWords again until he upgrades his website to accommodate all mobile devices.
What Have We Learned From This?

This experience certainly changed my perspective of the almighty Google which previously I had held in the highest regard. Sadly it had entered the ranks of unscrupulous businesses that dupe the customer under the guise of providing a valuable service. Could this be a case of one bad apple unfairly tainting my opinion of an entire company? Perhaps, but the fact that my ad rep’s team set up this campaign to eat up my client’s entire budget before the ten-day proving ground had elapsed makes me wonder. Also, my rep completely abandoned me once I paused our campaign because I thwarted their attempts to cash in on our naiveté. All I can say is beware those smiling faces.

About the author


Marilyn Bontempo

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 45 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at


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  • Phew! Wonderful story. Didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or frown. Bad keyword targeting? Bad landing page? Poor page optimisation (rendering)? Low budget? A combination of these factors were at work here, in my opinion.

    • Google is stealing raises and grow money from companies. This is why America is failing! They are taking the money that is normally used for employee’s and raises and none of you seem to get that at all. When we had a strong economy google did not charge for clicks and now they do, Did you not see this happen right in front of your eyes but many of you are making money from these changes too so you are all part of the problem. Saying that you are paying the wrong person for PPC advice when no one needs to pay for PPC is wrong advice for sure. America will never be strong again as we have millions unemployeed yet we hire starters in sports for 34 million dollars a year and people that make 10 dollars an hour are paying 10 dollars for a hot dog. This world is all mixed up!

  • It’s always worth using an independent AdWords consultant (like me!) to set up and run a campaign, as there are a number of items which Google has as default in their settings which generally need changing.

  • Title is amazing, another impressive and interesting information about different factors of Google, thanks for sharing and enjoyed to read!

  • This, among many other reasons, is one of the major reasons why I dumped AdWords (and AdSense) years ago.

  • Can you please guide me on how much changes SEO takes for one time campaign creation?
    Sagar Ganatra

  • I so much effort to avoid using AdWords as I know that this little monster with so much power and areas to watch can eat up the the assets in awhile if not put all of the focus on the selected items and their details.

    Thanks for sharing it, Marilyn! This boosted my en-trust into AdWords more!

    ~ Adeel

  • I always love hearing about actual experiences rather than theory and what you described actually confirms my experiences with Adwords. I appreciate the details. That just shows you really have to be careful with ppc. It has to be watched like a hawk. Great article Marilyn. Thank you.

  • This is very obvious and basic. I have no idea why you’d select display for 10 days campaign – it is a long-term branding tool/remarketing not for immediate results. It has one of the lowest CRTs in all of advertising because most people just ignore it.

    The other thing is that you can never let google set up your campaign, thats ridiculous! Of course they set it up to make more money. This isn’t an adwords issue, it is a complete lack of skills issue. You shouldn’t use power tools when you don’t know how, same goes with adwords. In this case setting up a keyword focused landing page with a conversion form and some “bait” – free this or that – would have worked well with a focused adwords search campaign. THEN if you make a remarketing list for those people (assuming enough come to that page) you can show the ad only to them to remind them, not capture them). There are more things, but it is clear that when people want to use adwords they need a professional and shouldbn’t just give it a try.

    All the people that so far posted they don’t use adwords: I am sorry that you had bad experiences with completely unqualified people. When properly developed adwords campaigns are money making beasts. Of course they need to play into an overall marketing strategy.

    • Our mistake was in “trusting” the Google reps to advise us on how to achieve a successful outcome. If our ad period was too short for a display campaign, they should have told us that. We had a focused landing page, conversion form and free “bait” which made no difference with people just hoping to gape. Also…I personally DETEST remarketing when I am followed ad infintum all over the Internet for something I had only a passing interest or none at all! I think most other commenters have it right: Avoid the moneysucking Google AdWords! But thank you for your input. All comments are greatly appreciated.

    • When properly developed adwords campaigns are money making beasts. – Really You must have gobs of money to waste! I think not – All of our customers want to know why they have to pay more for products so Google can get a cut. Things worked fine before 2012 when they cut off product input spreadsheets but now we need to pay Google which means higher prices for most people but we refuse to raise prices to pay Google and we are on page 10 or 20 with 20000 products all lower prices than our competitors. Customers tell us everyday OMG I wish we had found you years ago as we have been paying more for our product and all we can do is say yes its Googles way to make money off you. They do not feel Google should be charging for a search engine what if we charged you for air. Im sure they will if you let them.

  • This is exactly how it works – you stumble in thinking you’ve got a chance, and then waste thousands of dollars before you even know what you did wrong, let alone how to do it right. It was a very, very expensive learning process.

  • Always found Adwords to be the most convoluted, complicated system with a huge learning curve. Spent plenty of money “learning” it. All in all, a frustrating exercise with little results.

  • Oh yes we have the same issues and Google could care less. They have a million excuses why our campaigns do not do well and when you offer the lowest prices for any product you cannot pay for clicks. People search Google for low prices on something they are not looking for the person paying the most for the keywords low prices. We sell packaging supplies that are expensive to ship and we offer the lowest price on product and shipping and cannot pay google 8 or 10 dollars when we dont even make that much on an average order. We use to get tons of traffic from Google before they went to a pay to play system and Google has got all the money we would have used for new employee’s or raises for existing employee’s. We try to tell anyone and they make out like we are spamming lol. No we have been around for 17 years and Google wants to put us out of business. Why I dont know except they want our money or else! They should go back to free product input as that was the only fair way to list products of course there are companies that can pay more because they charge more but is that what you are looking for. Companies that charge more! If you want to save money see GBE Packaging Supplies!

  • Verified as the truth, I had the same experience. I received plenty of daily clicks, but not 1 contact, which made me suspicious.

    I wondered how was I getting a high amount of daily clicks when my settings target to a specific city and county.

    Google does in fact trick people and steal money for clicks that never happened!

    A better alternative is Bing/Microsoft/Yahoo.

  • Just to repeat in case you did not understand but Google is causing everyone to raise prices so they can get a cut of our business that we worked very hard to get. Google is a search engine and if you want low prices like 7 cents for a box that is normally 11 cents you cant have someone who is not even in your market charging you 10 dollars for each click. This is just causing us all to raise prices on everything!!!! from shirts to dresses. If you think this is a good system call me I have several bridges for sale in LA

  • I can totally relate and I agree, unscrupulous is exactly right. Its a big waste of $$ as I have learned hard way too. Also my site ranked pretty good in local organic search before I started up last adwords campaigns and since I stopped campaign it doesn’t rank as well organically even tho fully mobile and professionally designed. What a racket..

  • Thanks for posting it! Love this case study and its good to get some insider view!
    Every company should know how to run proper adword campaigns!

  • One thing I don’t mess with is Adwords. You can lose the skin off your teeth. I got a phone call last week of some company offering me a PPC campaign. I declined the offer.

    My specialty is your website first page, maps listing first page and your business in a 3 pack. Adwords scares me to death. Blessings to those who can do it!

  • I too tried Google Adwords, had some ‘helpful’ Google rep talk me through it over the phone and gave up on it as it just wasted money and didn’t bring any new business in. It is way too complex for most small businesses.

  • Wow. That is the most comments I ever remember seeing on a post here. Never, ever, ever let Google run your account. Don’t even let most “Google trained” people run your account because they are taught the settings that are best for Google – NOT YOU.

    Running advertising is expensive. You have to set it very tightly and make sure it makes money for you from the start or don’t do it at all. Note that many very famous marketing agencies are happy to blow thousands of dollars to optimize your account.

    That is fine if you have thousands to spend and it is faster. But if you’re a small business find someone who understands the value of a dollar and tell them you’re not interested in branding (although you will get that, too) – you expect every campaign to more than pay for the clicks and the manager. If they can’t do that, find someone who can.

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  • I think effectively use Google AdWords as you say is not simple at all, I have spent quite a lot this ad segment but has not really satisfied