Do You Trust Your Google Ads Targeting?

5 Common Assumptions

…and why they’re dangerously wrong…


My ads only show to people when they search on my keywords.


This is the basic premise of Google Ads search advertising, and yet it gets less true every year!

There are a few ways in which a default campaign setup will allow ads to show to users who don’t search for your keyword phrases, but the most important has to do with match types.

When you enter a word or phrase as your keyword, by default, it runs on broad match.

This is the least precise of the match types, and gives Google leeway to show ads to users when they search ‘closely related’ (read ‘loosely related’) topics.

The definition of ‘closely related’ seems to grow wider incrementally, and a broad match keyword is more of a guideline than an instruction these days!

There is a report (the Search Terms report) for checking what actual phrases users searched before seeing and clicking on your ads. The difference between these and your selected keywords can be quite substantial, to say the least…

Use more restrictive match types, and ‘negative keywords’ to filter out unwanted traffic.



Google will only charge up to my daily budget each day.


This used to be true, and the daily budget was accurately called a ‘daily cap’…

But a while ago, Google gave itself a bit of leeway on this, and allowed budget overspend of up to 20% on any given day, rationing itself over the longer term so that spend over the month doesn’t exceed the calculated monthly budget.

Then – in October 2017 – it took a little more slack, and now allows 100% overspend. Again, monthly spend should stay in line with your daily budget, but if you do in fact want a daily budget, then you have to take further steps to keep spend in check.

The only way to ensure a specific hard cap on daily spend now is to use AdWords Scripts, and fight code with code!



Ads will only show in the locations I am targeting.


If you set your campaign to show ads in the UK, you could be forgiven for expecting Google to show your ads only in the UK….

But it doesn’t. Check your user location reports and you will usually see that ads are actually racking up impressions and clicks (and spend!) from other countries too.

By default, when you target a location, you are opting to show ads to people who either are in or ‘show interest in’ that location.

To fix that, you have to dig up the advanced location setting, and opt to ‘show ads to users in your targeted location’. No more clicks or spend outside the target zone.



My ads only show in Google search results.


Two kinds of wrong.

When setting up a new campaign, it’s easy to find yourself accidentally opting into campaign type ‘search with display select’.

If you do, your ads could show as part of a ‘display campaign’… in ad block on various websites, in a totally separate system from the search advertising you’re expecting.

Also, you will have to manually uncheck a box to avoid opting your ads into Google’s ‘Search Partner’ sites, and having them show either in their search results, or directory pages relevant to your keywords.

This is fine if you want to maximise traffic; it can extend your reach enormously.

However, it’s usually not good if you want to minimise your cost-per-conversion. Traffic from Search Partners tends to be cheaper, but converts at a lower rate, and the metrics generally don’t balance out in your favour.

Exclude both Google Display Network and Search Partners from your campaigns to keep ads on Google search only.


Exact Match is exact match


Sounds like a reasonable assumption… which is why a lot of PPC strategists are less than happy about the recent expansion of Exact Match.

Again – it used to be true, and you could rely on Exact match only to pick up the precise search you’ve specified.

Now, Exact Match will also scoop up what Google calls ‘close variants’ that it believes match the same ‘user intent’ as the precise keyword.

Word order may be changed, function words (‘in’, ‘of’ etc) may be added or ignored, and (in the latest round of expansion) related words may be substituted in, to match a user’s search with your ‘Exact Match’ keywords.

There’s no way around this one – which is in line with Google’s general move away from a keyword-first approach, to keyword+user+context. On the plus side, it does save you spending hours building out an exhaustive list of keyword variations.

… but it is a reduction in advertiser control, and in some cases, using Phrase Match may now actually keep a tighter grip on your targeted searches than Exact.


Ready to go deeper? Take these five quick actions to improve campaign performance today!