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Website Design, Development & Digital Marketing Insights from Kook

The Google Ads SEO shell game

Ever play three-card monte? Or a good old-fashioned shell game? Digital marketing has a similar shell game involving Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) and we’ve seen a few of our competitors use it to great effect.

Ever play three-card monte? Or a good old-fashioned shell game where the goal is to find the pea under three walnut shells or cups? It’s fun to play – and just as fun to watch someone else play. Manufactured chaos is always a great spectator sport! But even if the dealer lets you win once or twice, you know that they’re always ultimately working a con.

Digital marketing has a similar shell game involving Google Ads (formerly known as AdWords) and we’ve seen a few of our competitors use it to great effect.

It works like this:

  1. The setup: The digital marketing company (the “dealer”) tells a business that they can dramatically improve the results of their Google Ads search campaigns (the paid search campaigns that bid on Google search keywords to get leads or sales from a website).  
  2. The switch-a-roo: The “dealer” takes over the existing AdWords account, and ramps up the budget for keywords related to the client’s brand. For example, in our case, they would start spending more money on showing ads for when people search for the word “Kook”.
  3. The shell game: People search for your company name, click the ad at the top of the screen, go to your company’s website, and make a purchase or become a lead. Heck, they were already looking for you, so this made it easier!
  4. The hustle: The “dealer” sends a report to the client saying, “Wow, look at how many more leads/sales we’re getting you from Google Ads!”

Did you catch the trick? They move so quick, it’s easy to miss. The problem is that most websites will already rank well on Google for their own brand name without the need for paid advertising. And if a competitor isn’t already bidding against your brand name, or you have other SEO problems where you don’t rank well for your brand name, you’re already getting all those clicks for free.

Here’s a screenshot where we’re searching for “Kook” where you can see that we come up No.1 organically for this (in the free listings on Google).

Kook Mooloolaba organic search results on Google

But when you start running ads on Google for your brand name, every time one of those ads comes up and someone clicks them, you’re now needlessly paying for a click to your site that used to be free!

Kook Paid Search results on Google

We’ve seen this happen with a few clients in the past year. One of our clients recently fell victim to this and asked for help. After almost two months of working with their new digital marketing agency, they contacted us and said, “We don’t understand. We’re getting way more sales from Google Ads than we used to according to these reports from our new Google guys, but our overall sales are flat!”

We had a quick look and immediately determined the problem. The new digital marketing company (the “dealer”) was essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul in an effort to make their AdWords results look stronger. Sure, they had more sales from Google Ads. But their sales from organic search traffic (the free listings on Google and other search engines) were down by even more. People were no longer clicking the free listings on Google because the “dealer” was showing ads above those free listings.

Paid vs organic search traffic in the Google Ads shell game

And boom. There’s your shell game. And the “dealer” in this case wasn’t some small digital marketing company. They’re a big operation, a large agency with local sales staff that uses a lot of outsourced and overseas employees to manage the actual campaigns.

Is your digital marketing company pulling a swifty?

Keeping an eye on your digital marketing service provider can be tough work. You get intimidated if they use big words, you’re busy running your business and you’re supposed to be able to trust them.

If something doesn’t feel quite right with your digital marketing company, we recommend the following:

  1. Make sure you have administrative access with ownership permissions on your Google Ads account and your Google Analytics account. If your digital marketing company won’t give that to you, they may be hiding something.
  2. Compare your overall sales to the same period in the previous year. If something doesn’t feel quite right, there’s probably an issue.
  3. If you’re just not sure, have another digital marketing company you can trust check things out. Most will do a first-time audit of your Google Ads for free. Even for those who charge a small fee for a review of your account, it’s usually well worth it to get a second opinion.

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