Why Can't I See My AdWords Ad?

Can't see your ad? Don't panic. Here's an overview of the reasons why your ad might not be showing in Google, and how to find out.


"Why can't I see my ad when I search for it on Google?" is a question that I often get asked by clients, and they're often asking that question assuming that if they can't find their ad when they look for it on a live search that means that it's not running properly.

It usually doesn't mean that, and there are some common reasons why you might not see your ad or your client might not see their ad when they search for it in the live search results, but before we run through those first it's important to note these two key points.

First point: checking your ad by searching for it on Google is not a good idea. Not only is it not a reliable indicator of whether your ad is running properly or not for reasons that we'll go through in a minute, but also it messes with your stats by inflating the number of impressions you get.

Worse than that, if you search for your ad and click on it then you're violating AdWords Terms of Service. If you search for your ad and don't click on it then you are decreasing your click-through rate which actually damages campaign performance.

Second point: there is a more definitive and safe way to check whether your ad is showing up for any given keyword, and this method will also reveal any issues that might be preventing your ad from showing up, so I'll show you how to do that now.

In the keywords view under the status column here you get your first indication of whether ads are running for any given keyword or not. The status could be 'eligible', 'under review', 'disapproved', or a few others. If you hover over the term it will give a bit more detail. In this case we get confirmation here: 'an ad is showing now', but not much detail. For more detail you have to click on 'ad preview and diagnosis'.

This will run a test search based on the settings that actually apply to you at the time when you run this test. It will give the verdict here. If there is any problem then you'll see what the problems are just below this section here, and if this search is in fact bringing up ads currently you'll see the ad highlighted in green below.

Now here are the most common reasons for not seeing your ad when, based on your keywords, you'd expect to see it when you run a search.

The first one is limited budget. It's actually unusual for an ad to appear a hundred percent of the time when it technically could appear, and the reason for that is that if AdWords allowed it to appear all the time then technically it could generate unlimited clicks and unlimited spend, so in order to keep a campaign within its allocated daily budget AdWords rations out impressions, that is: rations out the instances when the ad appears so it will show some of the time but not all the time that it could show.

The second reason: you are searching from a location that is not covered by your campaign's location targeting settings... so you won't see your ad if you're searching and expecting to see it in Birmingham, but your campaign is set only to target Manchester.

Thirdly, along similar lines, if you're searching at a time that's not active by your ad scheduling settings, or if you're searching using a device that's been excluded from the campaign or if your demographic group has been excluded, then again you shouldn't expect to see the ad - so check your scheduling, device, demographic and audience settings to make sure that no exclusions are preventing you, or whoever is looking, from seeing the ad.

Now the fourth reason is that if you keep searching for your ad then Google might stop showing it to you. That's because, as Google puts it, "If you repeatedly search for your own ad on Google but never click on it, you may stop seeing it. That's because Google's system recognises your computer and stops showing you ads that it thinks you aren't interested in" so this is another reason why it's much better and more reliable to use the ad preview and diagnosis tool to check whether your keywords are bringing up ads.

If you're an agency or a freelancer then you're probably very used to dealing with this question from clients and having to reassure them that not seeing your ad is quite normal it's not usually an indication that anything is wrong, so in that case here's an extra tip you can use: you can exclude your clients IPs from their campaigns from the start and obviously explain that to them and explain that you're doing it to protect the integrity of the stats and to prevent them from generating and paying for any internal clicks. That's a completely reasonable thing to do from a campaign performance point of view, but obviously it will also mean you don't have to keep reassuring them when they then can't see their ad.

Key take away: don't search for your ad on Google if you want to check it. There are a bunch of reasons why you might not see it even if it's working fine. Instead use the preview and diagnosis tool in AdWords that will tell you if it's working or not working for any given keyword.