Google Ads Primer – Lesson 1

Google Ads (formerly Adwords) is perhaps the single most complex system that a typical e-commerce retailer has to master. I could throw Bing and maybe a few other advertising platforms into the mix too but Google is not only more complicated but also the most dominant of the advertising platforms.

I am going to take some time over the coming weeks and discuss Google Ads in detail but today, I want to try to give some insight into a big question that should be answered first: should you manage your own advertising or sub it out to an agency or expert?

The answer to that question is complex but I have strong opinions. In general, I think the answer is no. With very few exceptions, you are better off either keeping your advertising management in-house or working with a retailing partner like us that has their own skin in the game.

Advertising agencies are going to charge 10-15% of monthly spend to manage your campaigns for you and in theory, they are worth that if they lower your costs by more than what they charge. However, I have seen variations of these problems over and over:

  1. Agencies don’t know your business and don’t know your customers and for those reasons alone, cannot write ads as effectively as you can.
  2. Agencies sell you with experts but then give your account to low-level grunt employees who have minimal experience.
  3. Agencies make more when you spend more. They push you to test things that you really should not even test. They of course do not reimburse you for the failed tests either. Basically, they are learning their business with your money.
  4. Agencies can often show some quick savings with low hanging fruit improvements that you should be able to do yourself. However, long term, they are not necessarily incentivized to do the tedious things that need to be done to squeeze all the savings out of your account. In other words, they are going to focus on getting the most impact for the lowest investment. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that but again, you can typically do those things yourself, often within a few hours a week.
  5. Many agencies simply do not know what they are doing. They have not sold anything of significance online. Rather, they took some classes and want to build their experience off you. They are about as expert in online advertising as I am in launching rockets.

For all these reasons, the vast majority of online ad agencies are not worth your time. There are some good ones, but those are usually the ones that probably do not have time for you. They are working for the very large companies that can afford to pay them what they are worth.

So, in general, keep your advertising in-house or work with a retail partner like Cobblestone Trade that is invested fully with you.

Let me give you a quick warning if you decide to do it on your own. Once you start spending much money on Google Ads, they are going to start reaching out to you to try to “help” you. Be very careful with that. Google’s low-level advertising people are thinly disguised salespeople. They too will try to convince you to run tests that will often fail and quite often cost you a ton of money. I am hesitant to go too far in my criticism because sometimes, they are actually helpful. But it is a very mixed bag.

When contacted by Google, a bit of pleasant wariness is in order. When they make suggestions, be noncommital and do some research after the call. If they convince you to test something, keep the budget small at first. Don’t assume they are there to help you as much as help themselves.

As you spend more and more, you do get better and better support from Google. However, even at the top, you should be cautious.

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