The number one mistake I see small businesses make with Google AdWords

... and how to fix it

I often have the opportunity to review the Google AdWords accounts belonging to local small businesses and find the same issue occurs over and over again. I have seen small businesses WASTE 1000s of pounds making this mistake! It’s an easy mistake to make if you don’t know the intricacies of Google AdWords. It applies primarily to businesses with a local target market.

That mistake is the use of BROAD MATCH keyword phrases.

In this example, I’ll use a hypothetical accountancy firm based in Chiswick in West London. They want to attract clients from their local area via Google AdWords marketing.

They list the following phrases in their AdWords campaign because they want their adverts to display on Google when people search for these phrases. Looks sensible, doesn’t it?

Google AdWords broad match keywords

Google calls these phrases, typed in as per the screen capture above, BROAD MATCH. You can see this because they do not include any modifiers. Think of modifiers as punctuation marks which are used to tell Google how to handle the phrases you type in.

It might surprise you to know that the above phrases, without modifiers, will cause the accountancy firm’s adverts to show on Google when people perform the following searches:

  • accountant in Plymouth
  • Manchester accountant
  • Birmingham accountant
  • best accountant in the world
  • cardiff accountant
  • accountant costs uk
  • accountant northern ireland reviews
  • accountant rates
  • accountant sheffield
  • accountant gloucestershire

People using these phrases to search Google are not looking for an accountant in Chiswick!

I believe the use of broad match phrases is rarely a good strategy for a small business, targeting a local market while self-managing their AdWords account. It’s a different story If you have a full-time person working on your AdWords campaigns or you want to become an expert yourself and intend to monitor your campaigns, making changes multiple times EVERY day.

What’s the solution to this Google AdWords mistake?

Assuming you have a limited budget and you don’t want to pay an external agency a monthly fee to monitor and manage your AdWords campaigns for you –

The solution is to use “PHRASE MATCH” or [EXACT MATCH] keywords instead.

The quotes and square brackets surrounding these keywords are examples of the modifiers I talked about earlier.

Keywords are turned into phrase match keywords by putting quotes around them – see the example below:

Google AdWords phrase match keywords

Broad phrases turn into exact match phrases by putting square brackets around them – see the example below:

Google AdWords exact match keywords

My preference is for phrase match keywords. Lots of relevant people will see your ads if you use them. Your ads will also show to the occasional person who isn’t looking for your services. I think that’s a small price to pay for the exposure your ads will gain with phrase match keywords.

If your budget is exceptionally tight, I suggest you use exact match phrases instead. Exact match phrases ensure that your ads only show to people who search for the exact phrase you’ve listed. Your ads will not show for other variations of your phrases.

Using exact match phrases is the safe approach. The downside is that your ads won’t show to all potential customers searching for your services.

Google AdWords for small businesses

Another important aspect of AdWords is NEGATIVE KEYWORDS. I’ll dissect these in a separate blog post. Addressing the number one mistake is far more important than worrying about negative keywords.

If you’d like help running your local AdWords campaign – do get in touch with me, Sarah, by emailing Or if there are areas of AdWords that confuse you – let me know in the comments, and I’ll write a blog post just for you 🙂

by Sarah Jane Edwards

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