What is your biggest mistake in paid search management?

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Recently I participated in a panel discussion with other AdWords experts like Brad Geddes, Frederick Valleys, Matt Umbro and many more. It was in Bologna at the excellent AdWorld Experience conference.

A question came up that I love to answer. “What was your biggest screw up?”

This type of question helps us really learn. Funny, but I actually have multiple screw-up stories to share, because I’ve screwed it all up. I’m pretty terrible like that.

Client happiness is everything

Several panelists shared stories of not understanding client expectations. They spent too much money on a “good thing” too early and dried up their client budget in 6 months when it should have lasted a year.

The moral? Too much of a good thing can be bad.

Communication is everything

Others assumed that their client would appreciate their work, but never wrote them to confirm. They worked hard to achieve great results (aka they managed to metrics and not people), and the client wasn’t happy. This happens all of the time in PPC.

The moral? Doing good work isn’t enough. Blind trust in numbers doesn’t work, either. PPC is about setting expectations with clients, meeting their needs, and then focusing on achieving the numbers.

Targeting is everything

I have a few stories about throwing money away by ineffective targeting.

The short response I gave during the panel was talking about how I put a $1,000 budget placeholder for a campaign, but it was really only being spent at about $50/day. This was 5-10 years ago.

These campaigns were performing well, but my Google rep had some suggestions for further improvement.  I trusted her to make these changes, and let them go live without reviewing.

Lots of panic and $5,000 wasted, I realized that she had taken my original $1,000 placeholder and extended it to campaigns with no targeting whatsoever. We were basically advertising to everyone in the world.

The lesson: always check your settings.

A detailed story of screwing up (and how to recover from any screw up)

I also have a longer answer to this question that I thought would be fun to share. This has actually been sitting in my drafts folder for over a year and I thought that this is a good opportunity to address.

I share this story as both a learning experience and also to share how to “own-up when you screw up.”

Now, let me flash forward to the day before I had to tell my boss I lost the client $10,000.

Let’s call him David. I waited all night to tell him. The night was sleepless. I had spent 25% of our client budget on our first day running ads.

I get into his office and tell him something bad happened.

“How bad is it?”

$10,000 in ad spend in one day. 25% of client’s budget.

And the results were terrible.

“Can we fix it over the course of the month?”

I think so. We can make the numbers look better by the end of the month and meet our projections. We will have to explain the front-loading of the campaign spend, but we can hit our targets if we manage this closely.

“Ok, well I don’t think it sets a good standard to bury this in the numbers. We need to call them when and tell them you screwed up. I can take the blame.”

This was my boss. Volunteering to take a bullet for me, even though it wasn’t his fault. That is great leadership.

Eventually you just need to get on the phone and admit when you screw up.

And never do it again.

Short-term embarrassment can lead to long term relationships

We got on the phone and told the client about the screw up. We told them we can turn things around.

They listened.

We offered to cover the inadvertent ad spend out of our own pocket.

They declined. 

We told them that we expected to be fired and would help them find a new agency.

They didn’t fire us.

They are still a client to this day.

Paid Search is a relationship business. We form unexpected bonds through adversity, and relationships are strengthened when you work through something together.

My screw up taught me about the importance of leadership, accountability and how to manage relationships.

And I never made that mistake again. 

Mistakes happen, take 2

My mistake wasn’t repeated. I learned my lesson.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t see the same thing happen again.

After making a mistake, Jarad came to me after a sleepless night.

He screwed up. Spent a few thousand dollars on a client campaign through improper targeting.

“I usually triple-check my settings. I will quadruple-check from now on.”

He thought I was going to fire him on the spot.

Over two-thousand dollars.

This time I was playing the role of ‘boss,’ but I had an example to guide me.

We went through the scenario to understand the damage. It wasn’t that bad. Not nearly as bad as my screw-up.

So instead of dwelling, I told him the story about how I screwed up way more than him.

And how I’m still here.

Everyone makes mistakes

We all screw up. I believe that the most important thing is how you apply those screw ups to the next points of your career.

Life may be a checklist of the things you CAN do, but it should also be complimented with a list of the things you shouldn’t do.

You learn a lot more from your screw ups. You learn about people, relationships and become much resourceful over time.

Playing it safe severely stunts your ability to learn.

Don’t play it safe all of the time, but also don’t be an idiot.

Don’t try your best new technique on your biggest client.

Don’t launch a campaign before you go on a 2 week holiday to a tropical island.

Don’t be afraid. But maybe you don’t need to be a cowboy either.

We all screw up. That is what defines our future.

Don’t be a dummy like me, download our PPC Campaign Launch Checklist PDF

About the Author

Jeff Sauer is an independent Digital Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Teacher based out of a suitcase somewhere in the world. Formerly of Minneapolis, MN and San Francisco, CA.