Learning from Bad Text Ads


If you’ve been running PPC ads for any period of time, or even if you’ve been surfing the internet for longer than 5 minutes, you might have had the chance to come across some ads that were…not what you expected. Some weren’t that bad, others were just plain random, and still others made you wonder about people’s grasp of the English language. But the thing about finding bad ads is that they offer a perfect learning lesson in how to NOT write ads, how to tighten up targeting methods and making sure your ads make sense in general.

Bad ads can happen to all of us, just like embarrassing accidents that happen in your daily life. The point is that you learn a lesson from YOUR mistakes…and ads like these. Maybe you’ll laugh a bit, or shake your head, but I hope that it encourages you to go back through your own ads and check (and re-check) how they look and sound.

A few ads below are some I found simply surfing the internet and with some tip offs from other people. I wouldn’t say that these are The Worst Offenders ever, but it makes me sad when I see things like this in general. I plan on keeping tabs for future posts, so stay tuned.

Search word: beer making kit

Search result:

An example of a poorly targeted ad

Position for me: 5

The judgement: Absolutely no reference to “beer”, “making” or even “kit”. I’m not sure if anyone would click on this at all. Perhaps the $25+ orders ship free offer makes a good sell, but the overall irrelevancy cancels that for me.


Search word: learn to fly

Search result:

Poorly targeted PPC ad

Position for me: 1

The judgement: Okay, yes this is a completely random search term, so what kind of ads was I expecting? But it was a Google auto-fill so I’m not the only one to search for this term. I can see the connection with “learn” and the keywords in the ad, and perhaps some might argue the education-positive pun, but I still think that the advertiser has been neglectful in their negative keyword list. “Learn to Fly” is an actual app according to organic results, so perhaps they should exclude it exact match negative (or even phrase match negative).


Search word: yellow teddy bear

Search result:

Example of poorly target ad.

Position for me: 4

The judgement: This is a classic example of keywords that are relevant, but just used in a grammatically incorrect way  in an ad.


Search word: deals on books

Search result:

Bad grammar in a text ad

Position for me: 5

The judgement: It’s just so general. Plus I am not sure why they have the extra apostrophe in there three different times.

Another search result:

Poorly targeted ad

Position for me: 3

The judgement: Even MORE general. Not super helpful if you are looking for deals. Kind of unrelated in fact.


Search term: lower my gas rate

Search result:

Poorly targeted ad

Position for me: 3

The judgement: Need I say much? Someone looking to find lower prices for gas and they get an ad for Gas-X. Pretty sure that is not the intent there!


Search term: best cold weather running gear

Search result: 

Poorly written ad

The judgement: Granted, I searched for a long-tail key phrase in this particular query, but I wanted to highlight this ad to reveal a few key things. The first ad for Under Armour is not terrible. It has seller reviews, the halo effect of the brand name, a holiday offer and a call-to-action that makes the user act fast. However, I don’t see any keyword that I searched in the ad. If I wasn’t already familiar with Under Armour, i might not know what or who it was.

The second ad is a bit better since it highlights “running” and two other related keywords, “apparel” and “gear. However, I don’t see any reference to “best” or “cold”. To the untrained eye, this ad just might not be relevant to me. Additionally, there is not call-to-action that calls out what the search should do.  The last ad however incorporates “cold weather running” in the headline, which immediately drew my eye. I would likely have clicked on this ad more so than the others because I could trust that it’s bringing me to the page I want ASAP.


Conclusion: If you’ve been to any of our Adwords Seminars, then you might know how much I drive home the point that structure is one of the most important factors of success in an account. How you lay out and organize your keywords will greatly help you to 1. keep organized, 2. keep your quality scores high, 3. keep your CTR high, and 4. maintain overall relevancy of text ads. Your text ads are the “front” of your brand and your company, so they should all be compelling and scream “I-AM-EXACTLY-WHAT-YOU-ARE-LOOKING-FOR-CLICK-ME!” Not only that, but they should appear for search terms that are relevant to you as well as be the best text ads possible for the user at that moment. These ads in particular drive home the point that you should check your text ads for:

  • Relevancy – check your Search Query Report often to see if you are showing up for terms that are not relevant and add them to your negative list. Don’t forget that you can use your negative list to “channel” the right traffic to the right ad, increasing the chance of better CTR’s.
  • Grammar – Make sure your ads make sense. Lots of sense.
  • Call-to-Actions – Don’t forget to TELL the searcher what to do or what kind of special offer/promotion you have going on.
  • Compelling Headlines – use your keyword if you can in your ad headline so that Google bolds those phrases and draws the eyes to your ad.

Stay tuned for some more ad examples and what you can learn from them in the future. See a “bad ad”? Send it my way and I’ll include it in the next post!



Sarah is a former LunaMetrician and contributor to our blog.

  • Tim

    Great article! Sad how large brands are often the worst offenders. I imagine their process is so automated a lot of problematic ads slip through the cracks. Still, these could be solved with a thorough audit of ads and careful attention to search queries.

    • Thanks for commenting Tim!

      I agree. Sometimes big companies like Amazon do have a huge ad campaign, so there are ones that can slip through the cracks. It happens. But scheduling a thorough review of ads can take care of problems like this.

  • Melissa Mackey

    I would add that at least a couple of these examples illustrate a lack of understanding of dynamic keyword insertion (DKI). “Teddy Bear Yellow” is a good example – that’s the phrase they’re bidding on, and they’re probably using DKI, so that phrase got inserted in the ad. A lot of people think DKI inserts the search query, but it doesn’t – it inserts the bidded phrase. Something to be very careful of.

    • Thanks for commenting Melissa! And good point about DKI. I definitely use it with care simply because you can’t always “trust” what will be inserted.

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