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The 50 State Google Ads PPC Experiment

Observation

Over the last 10 years running large monthly Google Ads budgets ($100,000+/month) I have noticed the same pattern repeatedly – many campaigns waste money by generating irrelevant clicks and at significant cost. 

All too often the businesses affected by this waste are largely unaware of how large a percentage of their ad spend is wasted. 

Whether the inefficiency surfaced in one time Pay-Per-Click audits or when I took over existing Google Ads accounts & ongoing PPC management for lawyers, I kept seeing obvious waste in the form of non-relevant clicks.

Worse is that often the irrelevant clicks & wasted budget could’ve been prevented by regular observation, awareness of gaps in the keyword & bidding strategies being used, as well as a more nuanced understanding of Google Adwords. 

 

Question

It’s fairly simple to determine where issues are once you have full access to a Google Ads account. 

Getting access to the Google Ads account however is complicated by a host of issues, and is itself a challenge. 

My  goal then became to determine a way to do so, WITHOUT getting access. 

Could I identify poorly configured campaigns externally by triggering a law firm’s ads using search terms that fit the following criteria:

  • The search is related to a specific practice area ie. Personal Injury, Bankruptcy, etc, 
  • General consensus would be that the intent behind the search makes it irrelevant to the advertiser either because the search is outside the scope of what the firm practices or is not related to retaining a lawyer
  • The search term is not insane obscure  gibberish e.g. nothing like “Car Accident Lawyer Monkey Dodgeball Potato” – Interestingly enough we did generate an ad for this search, however we do not consider this an error. Read here for more detail on why that search term triggered an ad. 
  • The search term has enough volume monthly for it to be a persistent & therefore real issue

Experiment

I wanted to ensure that this experiment was scalable, replicable, Google TOS compliant, utilized  AI, and most importantly I would not click on any ads.

While many of the firms can afford the $50-$500 per irrelevant click from my errant searches, I did  not want to contribute to the problem by  actually clicking on the ads. 

I also wanted to see if this issue was present in as many different markets or was localized, came from larger digital marketing firms or was more likely to occur from smaller providers, etc. 

Analysis

  • After running our experiment in all 50 states using our list of irrelevant keywords, proxy servers to mimic searching from the physical state or city, and calling each firm where applicable to verify the information, I can confidently say that many of these firms are paying for irrelevant clicks at a frequency with which should cause a modicum of concern.

Within all 50 states I identified: 

  • 268 Law Firms serving ads for irrelevant searches 
  • An estimated $50,520 in wasted ads budget from 400+ instances of irrelevant ads being served for our irrelevant searches
 
With Google’s change in 2020 on Search Terms reporting ( ie what people searched when they clicked on or triggered an ad), a significant portion of your campaign spend is hidden from view. 
 
Seer Interactive writes in 2020 that as much as 28% of your campaign’s paid clicks are not visible, and get lumped into the “Other Search Terms” field in the Google Ads Console. 
 
Similarly when I analyze the data from January 2020 to January 2024 ,we can also see that roughly 36% ( $1,693,871  from “Other Search Terms” out of $4,581,967 total for Search Campaigns) of  what was spent was hidden by Google and categorized as “Other Search Terms”. See below: 

Conclusion

There is a tremendous amount of waste that is involved in legal PPC ( and by extension other competitive service based industries), and I am curious about the second, and third order effects of this waste. 

I am also fascinated to understand how so many business owners in such a competitive industry & practice areas such as Personal Injury & Divorce, are either unaware or don’t care  that they are regularly ceding an edge to competitors in every single Google Ads auction. 

If your stock broker bought you stock in Speedo when you asked him to buy you Google, you would fire him in a heartbeat (Goggle instead of GOOGLE).  We believe a marketing agency or media buyer should exercise a similar level of fiduciary responsibility when spending a client’s money. 

Many of these irrelevant searches that will consume portions of a law firm’s budget are known, and can be prevented from consuming ANY of your budget by utilizing appropriate negative keyword lists & strategies. 

If 28%-36% of your campaign data is obscured by Google in “Other Search Terms” and given the increased utility of AI assisted bidding methods, it is crucial that law firms reduce their potential exposure to irrelevant searches as much as possible. 

All 50 States